Around 100 divers participated in the inaugural Florida Keys Lionfish Tournament in mid-September removing 534 of the non-native Indo-Pacific red lionfish from the waters of the Florida Keys. The fish have plagued the Atlantic coast of the U.S. and have been found as far north as Long Island in New York posing a threat to the native species in the area. Organized by the ocean conservation organization REEF and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, the tournament was the first of three lionfish roundups planned in the Keys.
The event attracted 27 teams that competed for cash and prizes to collect the most, largest and smallest lionfish. The winning team captured 111 lionfish during the single day event. The largest lionfish caught measured in at just under 11 inches and the smallest at less than two inches. Lionfish can grow to lengths of over 18 inches in western Atlantic waters.
“The sanctuary is thrilled by the response from the dive community,” said Sanctuary Superintendent Sean Morton. “The volume of fish caught during this single day event demonstrates that dedicated diver removal efforts can be effective at helping keep this invasive at bay.”
With no predators to keep these fish in check, the lionfish (Pterois volitans) are problematic to the population health of native reefs and reef fishes. A 2008 study from Mark Hixon and Mark Albins observed a significant 79% reduction in juvenile fish on reefs with lionfish than those without. The lionfish also compete native piscavores, starving them out by taking away their natural food supply. Lionfish are also linked to the decrease in species such as parrotfish and other herbivorous fishes that keep seaweeds and macroalgae from overgrowing corals.
Two more tournaments are scheduled for this year on October 16 and November 13. Each team posted a $100 registration fee that includes a pair of puncture resistant gloves to protect the divers from lionfish spines along with two tickets to the tournament banquet. If you are in the area and want to participate, visit the lionfish derby registration site at REEF.