FLORIDA KEYS – Reef Environmental Education Foundation is to present the final leg of its 2018 Florida Lionfish Derby Series Friday through Sunday, Sept. 14-16, at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo.
Divers can participate to help preserve Keys reefs during a fun, competitive event to capture and remove as many non-native lionfish as possible from Keys waters.
REEF partners with the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and the dive community to provide hands-on opportunities to take action and remove lionfish, an invasive species introduced to Florida waters during the 1980s.
A co-sponsor of the tournament, Whole Foods Market, began selling fresh lionfish in its seafood departments in 2016. Although commonly served as ceviche or sushi, the filets can be prepared like any other fish, and have been likened to halibut or grouper in texture and flavor.
Derby divers are to vie for up to $6,500 in prize monies. Teams are rewarded for the most lionfish, the largest and smallest, a derby first-timers award and a raffled “golden fish” award.
Teams of up to four people can register. Early registration fee is $120 per team.
Late registration is to be held Friday, Sept. 14, from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. at the park, located at mile marker 102.5. A mandatory team captains meeting at 6:30 p.m. is to focus on lionfish ecology, their safe handling, collecting tools and techniques.
Derby participants can hunt from sunrise to sunset Saturday and sunrise to noon Sunday, collecting lionfish by netting or spearing while on SCUBA, snorkeling or free diving. Participants can dive from a private vessel or with a professional dive operator.
Sunday from noon to 2 p.m., a culinary competition is planned, when 10 participating chefs are to showcase delicious lionfish creations for people’s choice voting and cash prizes. VIP access tickets for the event are available online at reef.org/store/derbyvip/keylargo.
Other free lionfish festival activities also begin at noon. The public is invited to watch derby scoring, the awards ceremony as well as lionfish filleting and dissection demonstrations, sample tastings, live music, games and a raffle for prizes.
Event information: reef.org/derbies/keylargoderby or 305-852-0030
Florida Keys diving: www.fla-keys.com/diving
Florida Keys visitor information: www.fla-keys.com or 1-800-FLA-KEYS