STOCK ISLAND, Florida Keys — Divers can become undersea “anglers” during an event designed to control the population of non-native lionfish in Florida Keys waters. Set for Saturday, Nov. 5, the Lower Keys Lionfish Derby is part of an ongoing series hosted by the Reef Environmental Education Foundation and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
The action is headquartered at Stock Island’s Hurricane Hole Restaurant & Marina, 5130 U.S. Highway 1 at mile marker 4.5.
Events are to begin at 5:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 4, with a late registration followed by a mandatory 7 p.m. captains meeting and briefing on safe collection and handling procedures for lionfish.
The venomous Indo-Pacific red lionfish, whose Atlantic Ocean presence probably began in the 1980s when people carelessly released the popular aquarium fish, is considered an invasive species with no natural reef predators except man. Its rapidly growing populations steal space and food resources from domestic species like grouper and snapper.
On derby day, teams can begin collecting lionfish at sunrise. All catches must be turned in to the scoring station between 4 and 6 p.m.
At a 5:30 p.m. social, derby participants and the public can taste dishes made with lionfish’s delicate white meat.
A 7 p.m. awards ceremony and 7:30 p.m. banquet round out the events. Cash and prizes totaling more than $3,000 await the teams that bring in the most lionfish, largest lionfish and smallest.
The entry fee is $120 per team of up to four members registering by Wednesday, Nov. 2, or $150 thereafter.
Divers can participate from their own private vessels or join a local dive operator’s charter.
Event information and registration: www.reef.org/lionfish/derbies
Lower Keys visitor information: www.fla-keys.com/lowerkeys or 1-800-872-3722
Key West visitor information: www.fla-keys.com/keywest or 1-800-LAST-KEY