Nearly 1K lionfish caught at Caye Caulker’s 2nd annual derby

Wednesday, March 29th, 2017

Caye Caulker’s second annual Lionfish Derby put a dent in the population of Belize Barrier Reef’s most damaging invasive species. On Saturday, March 25th, participants brought in large amounts of the voracious predator, to be tallied and even cooked for sampling, at the popular Barrier Reef Sports Bar and Grill.
The event, which was organized by the Barrier Reef Sports Bar and Grill, Oceana in Belize, Frontier, Belize Fisheries-Caye Caulker, Oceana Wave Maker Volunteer Lynne Harris, Katie Crosby and members of the business community, was deemed a tremendous success!
This year saw almost double the amount caught last year, as a whopping 964 lionfish were removed from the local waters by the nine teams that signed up for the challenge. Among the participants was San Pedro’s Sagebrush Dive Team, who once again did great in the competition. The tournament included the following categories: Most Lionfish caught Scuba Diving, Most Lionfish caught Free Diving, Largest and Smallest Lionfish.
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 tournament had to offer. After eight hours out at sea, the participating teams brought back ice boxes full of lionfish to the weigh station. Onlookers were amazed to see so many of these predators, which are devouring all the juvenile fish in the reef. Many of the lionfish caught on Saturday, had fish and even shrimp removed from their stomachs, and ranged from 8 to over 30 centimetres in size.
Shantel Espadas from Oceana Belize believes that such events aimed at getting rid of these invasive species are very crucial for the survival of the Belizean Fishing Industry. “This species reproduces very fast and it is difficult to get them under control. However every effort helps, and these derbies sure put a dent on their population,” said Espadas. “This is one way in stepping forward in eradicating them, then the next step is for local restaurants to have it in their menu constantly so that fishermen can go out there and fish them.” Espadas encourages the fishing population to introduce lionfish in their marine products in order to keep a balance and save the future of the Belizean marine ecosystem.
At the end of the tournament, when all the catches had been weighed, the respective winners were announced. The Most Lionfish caught through free dive was via team French Angel, who caught 141 lionfish. Capturing the prize for the Most Lionfish via scuba diving was Scuba Sensation, with a total of 182 catches. There were two more prizes to give away and the winner for the Smallest Lionfish (8.2cm) caught, went to Team Caye to Happiness. The prize for the Largest Lionfish, measuring an incredible 36.1cm went to the San Pedro Sagebrush Team. They also had the largest crew, 12 in total. Team Sagebrush, would like to thank Belize Diving Services in Caye Caulker for providing them with diving tanks and Amigos del Mal for providing the team with transportation. The team also sold all their lionfish and donated the funds to the Sagebrush Church.

Following the tournament, spectators were invited to purchase tickets in order to sample cooked lionfish. Volunteer chefs lined up to fillet, grill and fry the tasty fish. All proceeds from the sales of tickets and the event itself will be used to assist the fire victims from a fire that recently destroyed an apartment rental where several families lived.
The first lionfish was spotted in Belize in 2008 and it is believed it migrated from the northern Atlantic Ocean. Lionfish are native to the Indo-Pacific, a single lionfish can lay up to 25,000 eggs between four to five days and its voracious appetite for juvenile fish has decimate native fish species numbers in these waters.
Similar Lionfish Derbies are in the plans in other parts of Belize; organizers are looking at the possibility of having one in San Pedro later this year.

Similar Lionfish Derbies are in the plans in other parts of Belize; Oceana in Belize is looking at the possibility of having one in San Pedro later this year. Organizers of the event would like to thank everyone that contributed in one way or another to the success of the tournament. They look forward to bringing the third derby in 2018 once again.

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