Ladies and gentlemen, behold an opportunity to become maritime royalty. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is hosting the Lionfish Challenge, a statewide hunting competition intended to encourage divers to capture, kill and eat the beguiling beauties, which have been invading western Atlantic waters and gobbling up native species for at least two decades. The title of Lionfish King or Queen goes to whoever captures the most lionfish by Sept. 30.
Anyone can enter, as long as the fish are captured off Florida’s shores. During the first weekend, participants brought in more than 14,000 of the eye-catching but unwelcome fish — about five times as many as during the same weekend last year, according to the organizers. Participants may do as they wish with the captured fish. Some have ended up in supermarkets and on menus, via partners like Edible Invaders. Others have been donated to high school students researching lionfish diets.
With venomous spines that look like feathers and colorful patterns, lionfish — native to the South Pacific and Indian Oceans — can be popular aquarium eye candy. But they become expensive guests, reproducing rapidly and snacking on other tank inhabitants. The discarding of unwanted lionfish off the coast of Miami and in the Caribbean in the 1980s and 1990s is believed to have kicked off an invasion that threatens marine ecosystems from Brazil to North Carolina.