We’re Being Invaded!

1st Annual Broward County Lionfish Derby

This past weekend marked the 2nd installment of the Summer Lionfish Derby Series which took place in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. The event spread the whole of Friday evening and all day Saturday and was a huge success but we’ll get back to that… Friday June 29th myself and the other interns making up the “J-Squad” (Jana, Jessi, and Joel) and Lad (Director of Special Projects) loaded up our rented Explorer and headed to Ft. Lauderdale. Our first stop was actually not Derby related; in fact it was Paul Humann house for the annual REEF Board Meeting. For those who don’t know, Paul Humann along with Ned DeLoach are the founding members of REEF and behind the numerous reef fish ID and critter books published over the years. So for a reef enthusiast such as myself, I might as well have been having lunch at George Clooney’s house! All the REEF Board members were incredibly nice and welcoming and it was such a wonderful experience to meet them and explore the beautiful exotic jungle of a back yard Paul calls home.

The REEF Board, Lad, Martha & The J-Squad (Joel, Jess (ME), Jessi, & Jana)!

Now, back on topic, the invasive Lionfish (Pterois volitans and P. miles) we’re introduced in the 1980’s via the aquarium trade and have since become the first invasive species to successfully established in Tropical Western Atlantic (TWA) waters. Their native range is the Indo-West Pacific (IWP) where populations are controlled by predation and parasitism. However, in the TWA Lionfish have no natural predators and are significantly less susceptible to parasites. On densely populated sites Lionfish can reach densities of over 200 adults/acre and cause serious damage to native reef habitats by non-selectively removing recreational, ecological, and commercially important species or reef fish and invertebrates. While there is no natural form of population control in the TWA, humans represent a predator of sorts and are at present the only form of control we have. In areas where removal efforts are sustained Lionfish densities can be significantly reduced and maintained to minimize their impact.

Progress of Lionfish invasion of Atlantic waters (2012 map as of March). For more information/background on the invasive Lionfish explore REEF’s Lionfish Project and Quick facts on the problem can be found on this one-page fact sheet from REEF, USGS, NOAA and the Simon Fraser University.

Unfortunately, the invasive Lionfish in the TWA is beyond eradication and solutions have moved into control and management of the problem. REEF is one of the organizations at the forefront of this movement and among many of their Lionfish Programs is their Derby Series. The first Lionfish Derby took place in 2009 in the Bahamas where in a single day they removed 1,408 Lionfish! These Derbies are designed to promote mass removal efforts and to date have removed 1,408 Lionfish in 2009, 2,587 in 2010, and 3,542 in 2011.

This past weekend marked the 2nd derby in the 2012 summer series. The derby was hosted at 15th St. Fisheries in Ft. Lauderdale, FL and sponsored by REEF, Divers Direct, and Sea Grant. There were 12 teams registered for the event that brought in a total of 419 Lionfish! Cash prizes were awarded to the 1st, 2nd and 3rd place teams in three categories: Most Caught, Largest Lionfish, and Smallest Lionfish. Among the highlights of the day was seeing over 225 individual Lionfish come in from a single team and the largest Lionfish caught which measured in at a monstrous 411mm (16.2”)! Although there were many rules to the Derby the main ones were fairly simple: stay in US waters and each team had to have their catch on the dock by 5pm for check in. As the teams begun to come in that is when all the fun started…

Photos Left to Right: Contender for the Smallest LF, Lionfish Filled Cooler, One of my MANY Lionfish Filets in Progress.

The first team in was Brownies Team arriving around 3pm to the 15th St. Fisheries dock. When teams arrive, their first stop is the check-in table where their time-in is recorded, they turn in their site map, and then head over to the scoring table were the counting begins! Now it is just not simple enough to have one table with one scorer, no, that would just be too easy. At each table there is a scorer, a recorder, fish cleaner, and several NSU students collecting samples. Take all that times it by 2 tables, handling 12 teams, and processing a total of 419 fish and things get a little messy (pun intended)!! I manned one of the scoring stations and in what little down time there was I jumped in to help with the cleaning process. In fact, this was my first time ever filleting a fish. One filet quickly turned into 40+ and it dawned on me that choosing a Lionfish as my first fish to filet was probably not the brightest idea but I’m happy to report no puncher wounds were sustained!

Overall I was so surprised by how many different uses there were for the Lionfish—we had the Chef of 15th St. Fisheries cooking Ceviche, students collecting tissue samples, stomach content, and carcasses for parasite studies, and we even had one of the team’s members after the tails of the Lionfish for her Jewelry. So in the end there was very little evidence left of the invasive critters except for all the smiling faces of the crowd.


One thought on “We’re Being Invaded!

  1. Nathan Jackson

    Really interesting! I had never heard that lionfish had become so well established. I think it’s great you got to do a lot of filleting, a valuable skill, and good to know how to use a sharp knife and not to be squeamish! I guess that means you can eat lionfish? Do they serve it in restaurants? That’s probably the best bet for controlling the population.


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