‘It should be a holiday’

“The first day of hunting season up north is like a holiday,” said Castaway Waterfront Restaurant owner John Mirabella, who is hosting the “Uno De Mayo” grouper and lionfish tournament on May 1. “The opening day of grouper season should be a holiday, too.”

In the spirit of keeping things simple, Castaways and Tilden’s Dive Center are hosting the first opening day tournament in the Middle Keys — even though it falls on a Monday.

“I’ve been wanting to do this for quite some time,” he said. “And, now that I have more space to do it, we were able to throw this together rather quickly.”

Mirabella just bought the marina property adjacent to the 15th Street restaurant, and is hoping to fill the canal with boats for the tournament weigh-in. “The spearos will be able to spend more time on the water and get the party started faster, since the weigh-in and party can be reached by boat,” he said.

For a tournament in its first year, he said, he hopes for 25 participants, with proceeds benefiting Sanctuary Friends Foundation of the Florida Keys. “Castaways and Tilden’s have always been a huge supporter of our projects and with the lionfish eradication efforts in the Keys,” said Monroe County Mayor and Sanctuary Friends Board Chairman George Neugent.

Mirabella has had lionfish on his menu since the invasive fish first showed up in Florida Keys waters. His lionfish recipes have been shared around the world and in very fine publications such as the Keys Weekly and National Geographic. Wendy Hall of Tilden’s Scuba Center, also a champion of lionfish eradication, hosts an annual lobster and lionfish tournament during lobster mini season.

The registration fee is $65 with a captain’s meeting (including sushi, beer, tournament hat, and six tank fills) on Sunday, April 30 at 6 p.m. at Tilden’s Dive Center in Marathon. The weigh-in fiesta will be held on Monday, May 1 from 4 to 6 p.m. at Castaway’s Waterfront Restaurant. Additional fiesta tickets for family and friends can be purchased for $25.

Prizes include gift cards to Tilden’s Scuba Center and Big Time Bait and Tackle, stays and dinners at local resorts and restaurants, fillet knives, and more. There will also be a raffle of other prizes for $5 tickets.

Categories include largest grouper, total weight of three grouper and all lionfish, and largest lionfish. To register or for more information, call Wendy at Tilden’s at 305-743-7255.

Grouper season starts Monday, May 1 at midnight.


Want to learn how to catch a lionfish?

REEF Environmental Education Foundation hosts free lionfish collection and handling workshops and lionfish dives in several locations throughout the Keys. Workshops teach ways to catch and handle the venomous spines on lionfish, and include practice time with professionals during a skills dive to collect the invasive species. To register for the workshops, visit reef.org. Upcoming events include:

Saturday, April 22 and Saturday, May 11, workshop from 9 to 11:30 a.m. at Florida Keys Eco Discovery Center and dive at 1:30 p.m. from Captain’s Corner Dive Center, both in Key West.

Saturday, April 29, workshop from 9 to 11:30 a.m. at Aquarium Encounters in Marathon, followed by a dive at 1 p.m. from Dive Duck Key.

Saturday, May 20, workshop from 9 to 11:30 a.m. at Big Pine Key library with dive at 12:30 p.m. from Looe Key Reef Resort and Dive Center.

Saturday, June 3, workshop from 9 to 11:30 a.m. at REEF Headquarters in Key Largo with a dive following at 12:30 p.m. from Horizon Divers.

Lionfish By The Numbers

(Courtesy of Office of Marine Sanctuaries and NOAA)

1985 – First lionfish spotted off Miami, Florida.

50,000 – eggs laid by invasive lionfish EVERY three days

30 year lifespan

18 venomous spines

1,000 lionfish can consume 5 million prey fish in one year

1 known predator – the spearfisher


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