Lionfish hunters pulled 849 of the invasive species from Bermuda’s waters in January as the 5th Annual Winter Lionfish Derby set new records.
Organisers said more than 250 fish were caught in the first week of the monthlong competition alone.
Corey Eddy, a marine researcher who organised the annual event, said it was originally launched as a means to collect data for research during the winter months.
Dr Eddy said: “I never really expected the derby would become such a successful and popular event for our lionfish hunters, but I have been more than pleasantly surprised.
“As I’ve said in the past, this event isn’t just about catching lionfish, but about bringing the lionfish community together.
“Importantly, the wrap party is our way of thanking the dedicated cullers who go out year round and make a significant contribution to the removal of lionfish from Bermuda’s waters.”
Every year since 2015, the number of participants in the derby has increased, with 68 divers enduring the cooler waters this year.
The fish caught increased from just 80 in 2015 to 849 this year.
Dr Eddy said: “As we’ve seen in every Winter Derby, these lionfish are being caught in shallow waters close to shore, making them comparatively easy to find and catch.
“Looking back at the data we’ve collected since 2012, it’s pretty cool to see that 24.2 per cent of all lionfish captured in Bermuda have been caught in one of the Winter Lionfish Derbies, at an average depth of 20 feet.”
This year, the top three free-diving teams managed to catch 561 fish out of the total haul, many of which Dr Eddy said ended up in local restaurants and grocery stores as part of the culler vendor programme supported by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
Other lionfish were donated to catering for the derby’s wrap party, held at the Bermuda Aquarium Museum and Zoo on Saturday, which featured lionfish ceviche prepared by Take Five Catering Ltd and lionfish chowder by Sid’s Seafoods.
The team of Iron Lion Zion, made up of Will Gillett, Treshun Correia, Andrew Conyers and Jon Pedro, took home the top group prize in the free-diving category after catching 207 fish.
The Lost in the Triangle team, Kweshon Hollis, JD Symonds, Rafal Burdon and Mark Wynne, won the prize in the Scuba category with 57 fish caught.
Both teams also took home $1,000 prizes for their victories thanks to sponsorship from the Bermuda Lionfish Task Force, Lindo’s, Marine Locker, Gorham’s, Atlantic Lionshare, OnIT IT Consulting, BlueShark Consulting and Atlantic Mooring Maintenance.
Other prizes were sponsored by Makin Waves, Dive Bermuda, Blue Water Divers, Blue Hole Water Sports, Gosling’s, La Garza Jewellery, and the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute.
Dr Eddy said: “Thanks to the incredible generosity of our sponsors, we had a few more prizes than categories.”