Caye Caulker hosts first Lionfish Derby
Wednesday, February 17th, 2016
The first ever Lionfish Derby in Caye Caulker took place on Saturday, February 13th and was organized and founded by the Barrier Reef Sports Bar and Grill along with Oceana Wave Maker volunteer Lynne Harris. The event was organized to continue the fight in ridding Belizean waters of the invasive lionfish. Nine teams registered for the event and headed out to the sea to capture as many fish as possible, then bring them ashore for cooking. There were four main categories which included the Most Lionfish (Scuba Diving), Most Lionfish (Free Dive), Largest Lionfish and Smallest Lionfish. There was even recognition for the youngest team taking part in the tournament.
Boats headed out to sea early on Saturday morning, equipped with everything they needed to catch as many fish as they could and hopefully claim some of the great prizes the competition had to offer. At the end of the day, the participating teams brought back ice boxes full of lionfish to the weigh station.
Harris explained the need to protect reef ecosystems from the invasive species and how through activities like the Lionfish Derby, the battle against the predator fish is a good way to go. “After we had our Annual General Meeting last year, I was inspired to do something about the invasion of the lionfish. I contacted different businesses on the island who were very supportive; the whole community was supportive. The local fishermen did not hesitate to participate in the event. The lionfish is a predatory species, has no natural predators, they breed very quickly and can live up for many years. They are eating all of our juvenile fish which is all of our reef fish. If we do not do anything, all our beautiful fishes that we know might disappear,” said Harris. According to her the event was a success with over 500 lionfish caught. Many of the restaurants on the island were happy to purchase some of the catch to serve at their establishments as well.
At the end of the tournament, after all the catches had been weighed, the respective winners were announced. The Most Lionfish caught through scuba diving was via Team Sagebrush from San Pedro Town with 78 lionfish caught. Team members were Brad Blanchat, Kyle Thomas, Eddie Ancona, Bill McDonald, Andre Paz, and Justin from Amigos del Mar. They walked away with $500, a case of beer and a bottle of rum. Capturing the prize for the Most Lionfish in free diving, as well as the Smallest Lionfish, was Caye Caulker fisherman Miguel Moreno. He won $600 dollars along with a case of beer and a bottle of rum. The prize for the Largest Lionfish, measuring an impressive 15” went to Stephanie and Henry Lopez from Contour Tours, who took the prize of $100, a case of beer and a bottle of rum. At the end of the award ceremony, the youngest team, Spearheads, was recognized. Even though they did not make it in any of the four main categories, they did well as the youngest group in the competition. They walked away with a $75 certificate courtesy of the Barrier Reef Sports Bar.
Following the tournament, spectators were invited to sample cooked lionfish as volunteer chefs lined up to feed those wanting to taste the fierce (and poisonous) fish. Once properly cleaned, the fish was filleted, grilled and fried; many people who had never eaten the fish were delighted with the taste.
The lionfish caught in the event ranged from four to fifteen inches in length and many of them had juvenile fish removed from their stomachs. Lionfish are native to the Indo-Pacific and it is believed that they were illegally introduced to the Atlantic Ocean/Caribbean Sea through the pet trade. A single lionfish can lay up to 25,000 eggs between four to five days and its voracious appetite for juvenile fish has decimated native fish species numbers in these waters. Thus, members from Oceana Belize are encouraging everyone to join the fight to eradicate this invader that is endangering the future of Belize’s reef ecosystems.
Similar Lionfish Derbies have taken place in Sarteneja and Placencia, and organizers are looking at the possibility of having another one in Caye Caulker at the end of summer/beginning of fall.
Organizers of the event would like to thank Frontier, Blue Ventures and the Belize Game Fish Association and everyone else who assisted and contributed to the success of the tournament.
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