By John Tapley
Venomous, voracious, and altogether vicious, the indo-Pacific red lionfish has plagued coastal waters off the southeastern United States for over a decade: scouring reef environments by rapidly consuming smaller fish and breeding quickly. Lionfish are an invasive, apex predator, and were it not for human intervention, would have full reign over the coast’s already delicate ecosystem. Sharing the lionfish plight and encouraging people to protect their waterways is the Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) and its upcoming summertime series centered in Florida: the REEF 2018 Lionfish Derby Series Presented by Whole Foods Market(r).
“The derby series has a multi-faceted purpose; on the surface, we want to take lionfish out of the water because they are detrimental to our ecosystems,” explains REEF Lionfish Derby coordinator Ashley Yarbrough. “Derbies also serve a valuable outreach purpose: because they are public, outdoor events we get to communicate important marine conservation to people who are participating and [those] passing through: anything from lionfish to specific ways they can get involved to protect our coral reefs.”
Core to the events will be series of competitions where teams of lionfish hunters give it their all to stomp out the invasive predator. Prize categories will include largest, smallest, and most caught lionfish: the latter divided into 10 tiers. A new prize category, the $1000 cash Golden Fish Award, will be elligible for all registerd teams as a means to, according to Yarbrough, “level the playing field: enabling competitors both seasoned and novice and opportunity to win big. Another new division, the newcomers category, will match beginners with their equals.
Prior to participating, teams must meet with at a captain’s meeting, which will help them understand the plight of the lionfish invasion and impart valuable skills and knowledge on safety procedures and hunting techniques.
While most of the lionfish derby action will take place beneath the surface, the series will include a plethora of activities geared for the whole family. During the tournies, each location will offer varied events – likened to a street fair or block party – for attendees of all interests and ages; raffles, yard games, and educational lionfish dissections are just a few. Key to these festivities will be lionfish cooking competitions and tastings with competitors’ catch scaled and served for attendees.
“This year we are implementing more culinary competitions – last year we just had [two] – to further encourage people to eat lionfish and show them the many ways it can be cooked and integrated in their diets,” says Yarbrough.
Quick to feed and to breed, lionfish have many advantages against the southeastern United States, but with human intervention, this influx may recede. Since the derby series started in 2009, over 21,092 lionfish have been caught off Florida’s waters; countless guests and competitors have been educated on this voracious apex predator. And as the threat continues onward, REEF will follow in stride: keeping its mission to protect and enhance waterways the world over.
For more information on the REEF 2018 Lionfish Derby Series Presented by Whole Foods Market, including team registration and scheduled captain’s meetings, visit www.reef.org/lionfish/derbies.