Guy Harvey Outpost Lionfish Safari: Divers on a Mission
On Saturday, September 6, 2014 ninety-one certified divers loaded into boats and descended upon the Gulf of Mexico waters with spear-guns in hand, ready to kill. Their mission was to search and destroy as many invasive lionfish as they could as part of the first annual Guy Harvey Outpost Lionfish Safari.
Why lionfish? The Indo-Pacific Lionfish are an invasive and non-indigenous species of fish that are rapidly growing in numbers from the SE coast of the U.S. throughout the Bahamas and Caribbean as far north as Bermuda and as far south as Venezuela. In conjunction with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation has made a strong push to encourage divers, anglers and commercial harvesters to remove lionfish in Florida waters to limit negative impacts to native marine life and ecosystems.
Therefore, for the Guy Harvey Outpost Lionfish Safari, each lionfish held a bounty over its head including cash rewards and prizes valued up to $500 each. After a long day on the water, the troops stored their catch on ice and retreated back to their homes to rest before the next day’s big surrender at the Guy Harvey Outpost on St. Pete Beach.
On Sunday, September 7, the lionfish hunters flocked to the Guy Harvey Outpost where the impressive team of 30+ volunteers from Reef Monitoring, Inc. eagerly awaited their arrival. Reef Monitoring is a non-profit research organization comprised of marine scientists and educators who meticulously observe natural and artificial reef systems off the west coast of Florida. This organization was the driving force behind the event, with the goal to not only eradicate these pests from our waters but also to collect valuable data for research purposes.
The team painstakingly weighed and measured each lionfish as they were pulled from the jam-packed, jumbo coolers. Afterward, they were passed down the assembly line for dissection to include the removal of their eardrum, stomach and other organs allowing the scientists to record their age, swimming patterns and other behaviors. A baby octopus was found inside the stomach of one of the lionfish!
The next stop was the fillet table before reaching their final destination: the grill station manned by our Executive Chef, Justin Harry. Yes! You can eat lionfish and it turns out these little rascals are absolutely delicious. Chef Justin created flavorful, thai-inspired lionfish cakes. The recipe can be found in the Lionfish Cookbook, which was available for sale during the event along with the limited-edition tournament t-shirts featuring original artwork from Guy Harvey.
Tropical-themed live music kept the day flowing while spectators watched the whole process and sipped on an orange-colored specialty cocktail appropriately named The LionTamer. Representatives from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission came out to the event to share their viewpoint on the issue while showcasing a live lionfish. Plus, several games hosted by the TradeWinds Island Resorts Activities Department kept the crowd engaged, including the popular frozen t-shirt contest.
By the end of the day, 473 individual lionfish were counted. Prizes were given out to participants based on three different categories including ‘Most Lionfish,’ ‘Largest Lionfish,’ and ‘Smallest Lionfish’ (because even the small ones make a difference!). The diver that brought in the most lionfish was Teresa Hattaway, owner of Jim’s Dive Shop in St. Petersburg, FL, who presented a whopping 199 fish! The largest lionfish brought in was 1097 grams, which converts to about 2.42 lbs., and the smallest lionfish was just 36 grams or about 0.079 lbs. Even better, approximately $3,000 was raised for on-going research, which will go directly to Reef Monitoring, Inc.