A diver uses a clear plastic bag to carry several lionfish. Careful handling of lionfish, which have venomous spines, is essential to the process of bringing them up. The lionfish flesh is white, delicate and tasty. Photo provided by REEF
By Willie Howard
The Reef Environmental Education Foundation and partner Whole Foods Market have scheduled a series of lionfish derbies around Florida beginning in late March.
In derbies, divers compete to harvest as many of the invasive, nonnative lionfish as possible, reducing their impacts on Florida’s native fish.
Native to the Indian and Pacific oceans, lionfish eat Florida natives such as juvenile snappers and groupers. Lionfish eat more than 120 species of fish and marine invertebrates and can swallow fish more than half their own length.
With no predators capable of controlling lionfish numbers in the Atlantic, diver harvesting is one of the few methods that work.
During the past six years, 21,092 lionfish have been removed from the water by divers competing for prizes in lionfish derbies, according to REEF.
This year’s first REEF-sanctioned lionfish derby is scheduled for March 31 at Sharkey’s Pub & Galley Restaurant in Key Largo. The event begins with a captains meeting at 5:30 p.m. March 30 at REEF headquarters in Key Largo.
Other lionfish derbies scheduled for this year include the July 13-14 derby at 15th Street Fisheries in Fort Lauderdale and the Aug. 3-5 derby at the Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Juno Beach.
Lionfish cooking demonstrations, samples of cooked lionfish and chef’s cooking competitions are planned for the Palm Beach County Lionfish Derby in Juno Beach.
Although the lionfish’s spines are venomous, the flesh is white, delicate and tasty. Whole Foods Market has been selling lionfish at its Florida stores since April 2016.
To compete in a REEF lionfish derby, teams of two to four divers pay a $120 entry fee. Teams have a chance to win cash prizes for the most lionfish as well as the largest and smallest lionfish.
Team captains must attend meetings before each derby, and other team members are encouraged to attend to review proper methods for harvesting and handling lionfish.
For a schedule of lionfish derbies, visit www.reef.org/lionfish/derbies or call REEF at 305-852-0030.
Non-derby incentives: For divers who would rather remove lionfish from Florida waters without competing in an organized lionfish derby, the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission provides incentives and opportunities to win prizes.
In April and May, the FWC will tag lionfish at 50 randomly selected artificial reef sites in depths of 80 to 120 feet. (Locations will be posted at www.ReefRangers.com.)
Divers who harvest a tagged lionfish and document their catch by submitting its location (coordinates), tag number and photograph will be eligible for prizes, including money and merchandise.
Divers can win tagged-lionfish prizes from May 19 through Sept. 3.
Participants in the FWC’s lionfish removal program are encouraged to register at www.myfwc.com/lionfish.
Sailfish researcher wins lifetime achievement award
John Jolley Jr. of Boynton Beach, a pioneer in Atlantic sailfish research, was recently awarded the West Palm Beach Fishing Club’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
Jolley, 73, grew up fishing and diving in southern Palm Beach County and graduated from Suncoast High School. He was the fifth person to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award from the fishing club, established in 1934.
Jolley said he was surprised when club president Tom Twyford presented the award to him Jan. 13 during the Silver Sailfish Derby awards banquet at the Sailfish Club of Florida in Palm Beach.
Working as a marine biologist for the Florida Department of Natural Resources in the 1970s, Jolley established a sailfish research lab inside the West Palm Beach Fishing Club. He collaborated with anglers and taxidermists to gather data on sailfish age, growth, abundance and reproduction.
He developed the method of analyzing growth rings in fin spines to determine the age of sailfish and other billfish.
Jolley is a lifelong angler and past president of the fishing club. He still enjoys fishing on his 30-foot boat, Seaclusion.
“John has dedicated most of his life toward improving and protecting marine resources,” club chairman Pete Schulz said. “His fingerprints are on many of the fishing club’s conservation successes and community initiatives.”
Other recipients of the fishing club’s Lifetime Achievement Award are boat builder and conservationist John Rybovich Jr., fish-tagging pioneer Frank Mather III, longtime former West Palm Beach Fishing Club director Frances Doucet, and former Palm Beach County environmental director Jim Barry.
Palm Beach boat show opens March 22
The 33rd annual Palm Beach International Boat Show will be held March 22-25 along Flagler Drive in downtown West Palm Beach.
In addition to a wide selection of boats and accessories, the boat show offers educational opportunities such as youth fishing clinics by Hook the Future and IGFA School of Sportfishing seminars for adults.
The West Palm Beach Fishing Club will hold an open house March 22-23 during the boat show highlighting the club’s history.
Located at Fifth Street and North Flagler Drive (just north of the boat show site), the fishing club was founded in 1934. The clubhouse was recently awarded a state historic marker, which will be displayed during the open house.
Hours for the fishing club’s open house are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more details, call the club at 832-6780.
Boat show attendees can sign up for on-the-water boat handling classes or learn about long-range cruising from experts.
Show hours are noon to 7 p.m. March 22; 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. March 23-24, and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. March 25.
Tickets are $24 for adults and $14 for ages 6-15. Children younger than 6 admitted free.
For details, go to www.pbboatshow.com.
Full moon wahoo
March 6: Boynton Beach Fishing Club meets 7 p.m. in the clubhouse next to the boat ramps, Harvey E. Oyer Jr. Park, 2010 N. Federal Highway, Boynton Beach. Free. Call 707-5660 or go to www.bifc.org.
March 10: Basic boating safety class offered by Coast Guard Auxiliary, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the headquarters building at Spanish River Park, 3939 N. Ocean Blvd., Boca Raton. Fee $35. Register at the door. Bring lunch. Call 391-3600 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
March 24: Basic boating safety class offered by Coast Guard Auxiliary, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the classroom next to the boat ramps, Harvey E. Oyer Jr. Park, 2010 N. Federal Highway, Boynton Beach. Fee $25. Register at the door. Call 704-7440.
Tip of the month
Cellphones can distract boat operators, warns the BoatUS Foundation for Boating Safety & Clean Water. Boats can approach from all directions and can be moving at various speeds in many types of weather. So a few seconds of looking down to read or send a text while operating a boat can be dangerous.
“We have to know how to use them wisely,” said Ted Sensenbrenner, a boating safety expert with BoatUS. “If you’re texting from the helm, you’re not helming the boat.”
Willie Howard is a freelance writer and licensed boat captain. Reach him at email@example.com.