Lionfish are wreaking havoc in Southeastern costal waters and a now a group of divers is fighting back. 534 Indo-Pacific red lionfish were caught in the first of three lionfish derbies where divers compete for cash prizes.

Lionfish are an invasive species that found their way into U.S. costal waters thanks to aquarists who release the fish into the ocean. Lionfish are voracious feeders and eat juvenile species like grouper and snapper. Also, Lionfish have venomous spines and no natural known predators except for humans. One average they grow to about a foot in length.

“That’s 534 lionfish that aren’t out there eating reef fish,” said Akins. “Beyond going out there and removing a lot of lionfish at once, we hope to increase awareness and have divers do this on an ongoing basis,” Lad Akins of the Reef Environmental Education Foundation said in a press release. The foundation is coordinating the lionfish derbies along with officials from the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

According to Akins, it is estimated that approximately 27 percent of mature lionfish need be removed monthly for one year in order in order to halt increases in population.

There has been a recent push to encourage people to catch and eat lionfish. When properly cleaned, the fish yield a white meat that is considered a delicacy.

Photo: Jens Petersen