Cash prizes for catching lionfish

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People in Florida Keys have come up with a novel way of tackling the problem of invasive species.

Last week saw the first of three 'derbies' where the aim is to catch as many Indo-Pacific lionfish Pterois volitans/miles as possible.

Over 100 divers gathered at the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary in teams to collect nearly 550 of the lionfish for a top prize of $1000. Two more competitions will be held in October and November.

This type of event is proving increasingly more popular way to control this species, with facebook pages devoted to the derbies, websites and even forums dedicated to the events. Often the competitors will eat the fish afterwards.

Environmental experts are extremely concerned about the impact of the lionfish on the native ecosystem as these fish are extremely fecund with one female producing 15,000 eggs from a single mating and up to three matings a month.

Lionfish have no known predators except man and are themselves voracious predators, having a devastating effect on the abundance of coral reef fish such as grouper and snapper which they prey upon or outcompete.

Studies have shown that a single lionfish can eat prey up to 75% of its own body length and on one occasion a single lionfish was witnessed eating 20 wrasse in just 30 minutes.

These fish are thought to have been introduced into the Caribbean in the early 1990s through a combination of hurricanes/weather conditions and tank releases. They have now been spotted along the US eastern seaboard spanning as far north as Rhode Island to as far south as Columbia.

Marine Sanctuary officials are so concerned about the Indo-Pacific Lionfish that they have also issued over 100 permits to trained volunteers to capture them with needle-proof gloves and remove them from Keys waters.

PFK reported earlier in the year on a plan to serve lionfish on the menu in restaurants, as a method of controlling them.