In the 10th annual Upper Keys Lionfish Derby and Festival, divers vie for prize money while helping preserve Keys native reef fish populations during a fun, competitive event. Teams are tasked with capturing and removing from Keys waters as many non-native lionfish as possible.
Awards for the most lionfish, the largest, smallest and a golden fish raffle are presented to qualifying teams.
For over a decade REEF has joined the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and the dive community to provide hands-on opportunities for “citizen scientists.” These sustainability-focused individuals actively remove the invasive, voracious species that was introduced to Florida waters during the 1980s, lessening the pressure on existing reef fish ecosystems and providing a healthy new food source for human consumption.
Teams of up to four people can register online for $120 per team. In-person registration is to be held Friday, Sept. 13, from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. at REEF headquarters, mile marker 98.3, in the median of the Florida Keys Overseas Highway.
A mandatory team captains meeting follows at 6:30 p.m. Team captains can attend the meeting remotely via GoToMeeting.com with organizer approval. Details are to be posted on REEF’s website at reef.org/events/reefs-10th-annual-upper-keys-lionfish-derby-festival. The meeting’s focus is on lionfish ecology, best collecting tools, safe handling and techniques, so all team members are encouraged to attend.
Derby participants can hunt from sunrise to sunset Saturday, Sept. 14, and sunrise to 1 p.m. Sunday. They can collect lionfish by netting or spearing while on scuba, snorkeling or free diving, following all federal and state fishing regulations.
Participants can dive from a private vessel or with a professional dive operator. Fishing location is not limited.
All fish are to be turned in by 1 p.m. Sunday to the scoring station at the Tiki Bar at Postcard Inn Resort and Marina, mile marker 84 oceanside.
Attendees can enjoy live music, games, craft and environmental art vendors, and raffles for prizes. Open to the public, these activities alongside team scoring are to start at 1 p.m. Sunday at Postcard Inn Resort and Marina.
REEF staff will provide lionfish fillet and dissection demonstrations, and local chefs are to offer cooking demonstrations and tastings.
Team awards are to follow scoring at approximately 3:30 p.m.
Although commonly served as ceviche or sushi, lionfish filets can be prepared like any other fish and have been likened to halibut or grouper in texture and flavor.
Event information: REEF.org/2019-lionfish-derby-series or 305-852-0030
Florida Keys visitor information: fla-keys.com or 1-800-FLA-KEYS
Florida Keys diving information: fla-keys.com/diving
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