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Florida Keys lionfish derby is postponed

The second of three lionfish derbies that was scheduled for Oct. 16 in Marathon has been postponed to Oct. 23 due to weather threats.

That means there's more time to sign for the Keys Fisheries-based event, organized by the Reef Environmental Educational Foundation of Key Largo.

Scientists are concerned about the rapid population growth of lionfish in Keys waters and their lack of natural predators in the Atlantic. Lionfish are known to feed on commercially and ecologically important fish species -- including snapper, grouper and shrimp -- and can disrupt the balance of the marine ecosystem.

More than $3,000 in cash and prizes will be awarded to the divers who bring in the most lionfish, largest lionfish and smallest lionfish during the derby.

A $100 registration fee provides each team of four with a pair of puncture-resistant gloves -- important protection from lionfish spines -- and two tickets to the tournament banquet.

The day of the tournament, divers are allowed to collect lionfish using hand nets or spearguns in areas of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary where fishing and spearfishing is allowed. Team captains must attend a briefing at 7 p.m. Oct. 22.

Lionfish collection begins at sunrise the next day. All fish must be checked in for scoring at Keys Fisheries by 6:30 p.m. Lionfish tastings begin at 6 and the awards banquet starts at 7.

More than 500 lionfish were removed from the Keys' inaugural lionfish tournament in Key Largo in September. The Lower Keys lionfish tournament is scheduled for Nov. 13 at the Hurricane Hole Marina on Stock Island.