With coral reefs around the world in peril from pollution, ocean acidification, disease and other threats, watching these animals reproduce is an exciting, exhilarating, and uplifting experience. A mass …
St. Pete Beach and Key Largo Hosting September Lionfish Derbies
Opportunities to curb Florida’s burgeoning populations of invasive lionfish (and learn more about our coral reef ecosystem) will be available in St. Pete Beach and Key Largo in September. And all ocean enthusiasts– divers or not– are invited to both events.
Guy Harvey Outpost, a TradeWinds Beach Resort on St. Pete Beach, will co-host a Lionfish Safari Sept. 12-13, along with Reef Monitoring, Inc. and the Fishing Rights Alliance. Then from Sept. 24-27, the Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) will conduct REEF Fest 2015 in Key Largo– a lionfish and ocean education event.
At the Lionfish Safari, both divers and anglers will set out to capture as many of the exotic predators from the Indo-Pacific as possible on Sept. 12. Contestants will keep their catch on ice overnight, then present it at weigh-in ceremonies Sept. 13 at the Outpost for chances of winning cash prizes and the certainty of knowing they did something to benefit the Gulf coast marine environment. Everyone will get to eat some of the bounty, and there will be a photo contest, raffle, and prize give-aways. Tournament entry fee is $35 per person.
It’s just as (or more) important for anglers to participate in the Safari as for scuba divers and snorkelers. A recent study by scientists at Nova Southeastern University suggests that local, intermittent diving derbies barely make a dent in reducing overall lionfish numbers and containing their spread. That’s because participants tend to zero in on the largest lionfish while smaller fish escape and spread their larvae to far-away downstream locations. Nova’s Dr. Matthew Johnston says what’s needed is consistent removal of all sizes of the exotics wherever they live, deep or shallow. Anglers are urged to fish for them with hook-and-line, especially in waters too deep for divers to safely explore.
Captain Tim Kehoe, Senior Outfitter at TradeWinds, recently harvested what might have been a world-record lionfish while surf-fishing near the resort. Casting a live scaled sardine (pilchard) in knee-deep water, Kehoe landed a fat 20-inch specimen, but didn’t weigh it or turn it over to the International Game Fish Association for certification. Still, that’s one less voracious predator plundering Southwest Florida’s native fish populations. If you would like to get involved, go to www.GuysLionfishSafari.com or call 727-259-7404.
Now, if you are not an experienced lionfish hunter and would like to learn more, REEF Fest in Key Largo is the place for you. REEF staff members will instruct you on locating them and safely avoiding their venomous spines, and will escort you on a lionfish hunt. This is no derby; it’s for instructional purposes only. But REEF Fest is much more than a lionfish expo. The event features seminars on fish identification and behavior; coral restoration; reef ecology and many other topics. Scuba celebrities such as Neal Watson, Spencer Slate, and Marty Snyderman will conduct guided dives to local reefs and wrecks. Evening social events with food and music will cap each day. Many events are free, but pre-registration is required. Visit www.reef.org/REEFFest2015.