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Lionfish derby aims to tackle invasive species, Thousands of dollars up for grabs for local participants

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With few natural predators, lionfish can quickly dominate coral reefs. Their voracious appetite means they can decimate populations of other species (Photo courtesy Wikipedia)

Thousands of dollars will be up for grabs when Antigua and Barbuda stages an eagerly-anticipated lionfish derby in November, aimed at curtailing numbers of the invasive species in the nation’s waters.

A two-day open lionfish tournament will take place on November 18 and 19, followed by a festival on November 20.

The events are being held in sync with the local Elkhorn Marine Conservancy and the California-based non-profit Lionfish University.

The programme includes a lionfish hunting competition, lionfish cooking competition, marine conservation youth poster contest, and lionfish jewellery workshop. 

More than EC$34,000 in cash prizes will be awarded in total, comprising one of the largest purses of prizes that has ever been given in a tournament in Antigua. Prizes will be given for the most lionfish caught, as well as for the cooking and poster contests.

There will also be a series of mini-lectures on various marine conservation topics given by leading experts in the field. The exhibitions and prize-giving will take place on November 20 in Nelson’s Dockyard.

An invasive species, lionfish can destroy native fish populations on coral reefs, leading to the reefs’ destruction. Their voracious appetite means they can quickly decimate populations of some species.

In 2019, the Mill Reef Club generously funded a visit by a team of five American lionfish experts to assess the lionfish problem facing Antigua and Barbuda.

A larger team of lionfish experts is now set to return to introduce control methods starting with the derby and festival. They will focus, in particular, on commercial opportunities arising from hunting lionfish. Experience from other countries shows that such efforts can be an important complement to measures undertaken by government.

One exciting component of the programme will be a class on how to make jewellery from the fins and tails of lionfish. The fee for the class is EC$40 which covers both instruction and a starter kit of jewellery-making tools and materials. All participants are guaranteed to leave the class with at least one finished jewellery item. Advance registration is required.  Email [email protected].

Interested lionfish hunters can register at https://antigualionfish.com/lionfish-derby-sign-up/. Participants are encouraged to enter the derby as an individual, or as a team of up to four people. The cost is EC$80 per person.

Email [email protected] for more information.

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