Back in 2001, Upper Keys florist and avid animal rescuer Sharon Mahoney Ellenwood asked her fishing guide husband Billy, “Why aren’t there any women’s fishing tournaments in the Keys …
The Lion in Winter: Whack It!
Scuba divers and snorkelers don’t have to wait until the spring cascade of lionfish hunts in Florida, the Bahamas and elsewhere to win cash for putting a dent in the population of the exotic species.
Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) will host a winter lionfish derby in the Upper Keys on Feb. 11. Entry fee is $20 per person, with up to four people per team. From sunrise till 5 p.m., you may whack the invasive Indo Pacific predators to your heart’s content, then sample the hunt’s tasty bounty and win money for harvesting the most, the biggest and the smallest. Festivities will be based at Sharky’s Pub & Galley in Key Largo; a pre-tournament captains’ meeting will be held Feb. 10 at REEF headquarters, 98300 Overseas Highway, Key Largo.
Last winter’s contest held in March removed 87 lionfish.
Scientists have pretty much given up on eliminating the venomous, candy-striped creatures from the Atlantic, Gulf and Caribbean, but they are fairly unanimous in their endorsement of local derbies as useful tools in keeping the population in check.
If you’d like to join the hunt, reserve a spot on the boat with Capt. Slate’s Scuba Adventures near Islamorada, a Guy Harvey Outpost Outfitter, by calling 305-451-3020. Slate plans to hit a couple of lionfish hot spots– the Davis Reef ledge about 40 to 80 feet deep and a shallower reef he calls the “Aquarium”.
“The Keys have been way in the lead on awareness of lionfish– mainly because of Lad Akins,” Slate said of REEF’s director of special projects. “That’s why you don’t see them everywhere–because we go out and get ’em. The dive world is aware they’re invasive and we need to get them outta here.”
If you’ve never tasted lionfish, you’re in for a treat at the apres-hunt party. Their light, delicate flavor is similar to hogfish– a tasty wrasse popular with seafood lovers.
For more information and to register for the derby, go to www.reef.org.