Scuba divers will be hitting the waters of Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary next weekend on a mission: net thousands of dollars in cash and prizes while helping rid the reef of a marine invader. Registration is still open for the final of three 2011 Florida Keys lionfish derbies which will be held Nov. 5, at Hurricane Hole Marina and Restaurant in Key West, FL.
Over the past few years, the lionfish population has spread throughout the Caribbean and Atlantic Coast. This is harmful to local fish populations as the lionfish, which is NOT a native of these regions, has no known predators and is wiping out the local environments.
More than $3,000 in cash and prizes will be awarded to the divers who capture the most, largest, and smallest lionfish during the one-day tournament organized by Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS) and Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF). More than 1,800 lionfish have been removed through derbies in the Florida Keys since FKNMS/REEF began tournaments in 2010.
- Scuba Divers capture 675 Lionfish from Florida Keys
- Divers invited to hunt lionfish LEGALLY this summer
- Teaching Old fish NEW tricks in battle against Lionfish
Teams of up to four divers may register online at www.reef.org/lionfish/derbiesregistrationform. The $120 registration fee provides each team with a pair of puncture resistant gloves and two tickets to the derby banquet. Registration fee increases to $150 on Nov. 2.
Teams must attend a mandatory captains meeting at 7 p.m. on Nov. 4 at Hurricane Hole. On Nov. 5, divers will be allowed to collect lionfish using hand nets or spearfishing gear in areas of the sanctuary where fishing and spearfishing is allowed. Lionfish collection begins at sunrise on derby day and all fish must be checked in for scoring at Hurricane Hole by 6 p.m. Lionfish tastings begin at 5:30 p.m. and the awards ceremony starts at 7 p.m.
After being judged for the competition, lionfish are weighed and measured by scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey, and their stomach contents and ear bones (otoliths) taken for further analysis. These samples help scientists learn more about lionfish genetics and growth, as well as impacts to native marine life in the Keys.
Scientists are concerned about the rapid population growth of lionfish in Keys waters and their lack of a natural predator in the western Atlantic. Lionfish are known to feed on commercially and ecologically important fish species — including snapper, grouper and shrimp — and can disrupt the balance of the marine ecosystem.
Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary protects 2,900 square nautical miles of critical marine habitat, including coral reef, hard bottom, sea grass meadows, mangrove communities and sand flats. NOAA and the state of Florida manage the sanctuary. Visit us online at www.floridakeys.noaa.gov or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/floridakeysnoaagov.