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Lionfish hunters prepare for annual derby

The battle against invasive lionfish is set to heat up again next month in the fourth annual Winter Lionfish Derby.

Organiser Corey Eddy, who published a PhD on lionfish in Bermuda, said he had high hopes for the monthlong event.

Mr Eddy said: “I started running these winter derbies in 2015 because lionfish come shallow and inshore during the winter, making them very accessible to our legions of lionfish hunters.

“It is largely an opportunity to keep people motivated to hunt through the winter, despite the cold, and it also allows me the chance to continue collecting samples and data for my research.

“There is also a wrap-up party at BUEI as our way of thanking the dedicated lionfish hunters who stay active through the winter, hunting lionfish and protecting our coral reef ecosystem.”

Lionfish, which are native to the Pacific and Indian Oceans, were introduced to the Atlantic in the 1990s.

The species has been in Bermudian waters since about 2000 and, with no natural predators, they have targeted native species.

Mr Eddy said there had been increases in the numbers of lionfish captured and spotted each year since the derby began.

He said: “It’s hard to gauge whether the lionfish population has grown because we haven’t done any surveys since our first one in 2013-2014.

“Nonetheless, based on lionfish catches reported by our permitted lionfish hunters, and what we hear from the dive shops, it appears there are more lionfish each year.

“We are also finding them in new places, which suggests they are moving into new territories. For example, one was caught deep in Riddell’s Bay just a few weeks ago, which is surprising as we don’t get a lot of reports of them along the North Shore, especially that far from either end of the island.

“Even though we don’t have hard evidence, everything suggests the numbers are growing. With that in mind, we always need more people hunting in the water, especially considering how delicious the fillet is.”

Organised by Mr Eddy and the Bermuda Lionfish Culling Programme, the Winter Derby will run throughout January with prizes for the top hunters.

Teams of between two and four lionfish hunters are tasked with not only killing as many lionfish as possible but to record details of the catch to aid research.

The derby will end with a wrap-up party and awards ceremony at BUEI on February 3.

Every participant who spears a lionfish will receive an official Winter Derby sweatshirt and be entered into a contest.

Along with prizes for the team that spears the most lionfish, cash prizes will be available for those who catch the largest and smallest lionfish.

Awards will also be offered to those who put in a major effort, even if they did not net a big catch.

Mr Eddy said: “The Bermuda Lionfish Task Force is sponsoring the cash prizes, but we’ve secured additional prizes from Gorham’s, Dive Bermuda, Blue Water Divers, Makin Waves and La Garza jewellers.”

He also praised the support the event has received from BUEI, along with Conyers Imports.

Participants will need to have an up-to-date lionfish culling permit from the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources and there is a $25 entrance fee for those taking part in the derby.

Anyone who wants to register can sign up at ptix.bm.