Lionfish continue to proliferate on the offshore reefs and ledges off the South Carolina coast, and another in a long line of events designed to keep their numbers in check off the Southeast has been set.
Tournaments or rodeos have cropped up all over the Southeast and the Caribbean, all designed to put as big a dent as possible in the population of the non-native lionfish, which present numerous problems on the reefs.
A quick internet search reveals lionfish rodeos established in the Florida Keys, Broward County, Fla., Palm Beach, Fla., on the Gulf Coast in Destin, Fla., and all the way up to Cape Lookout, N.C.
Now, a lionfish rodeo is coming to Murrells Inlet.
The striking lionfish, characterized by long, flowing fins with the dorsal creating its mane, reproduce quickly, compete with native species for food and eat the juveniles of native species such as grouper and snapper.
Lionfish have few natural enemies since their dorsal, anal and pelvic spines can deliver an extremely painful sting, which can cause headaches, vomiting and respiratory distress but is not considered to be lethal to humans.
The 1st Annual Murrells Inlet Spearfishing Tournament & Lionfish Rodeo will be held Oct. 25-27 out of Crazy Sister Marina sponsored by Scuba Express.
Scuba divers and freedivers are invited to compete in the event which, aside from the Lionfish Rodeo, will feature categories for numerous inshore and offshore reef species including gag, scamp, red and black grouper, mangrove and cubera snapper, hogfish, triggerfish, African pompano, flounder, sheepshead and spadefish.
The Captains meeting will be held Thursday at the Inlet Sports Lodge with the tournament set for two days, Friday and Saturday, Oct. 26-27.
Jonathan Poor of Scuba Express expects competitors from four states including North Carolina, Georgia and Florida along with South Carolina to be on hand.
Of course, lionfish are a threat to the native species being targeted in the tournament, and they need to go, or at a bare minimum be kept in check.
Lionfish are native to tropical areas of the Pacific Ocean and, are popular in the aquarium trade. National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is on record surmising that the species was released accidentally and/or purposely from aquariums in Florida and have expanded northward near the warm-water boundaries of the Gulf Stream.
The species likely first showed up in South Carolina’s offshore waters in the early 2000’s.
“[They are seen] mostly in depths of 75 feet or more,” Poor said. “Thirty miles [offshore] is the closest I’ve seen them to shore. We’re seeing them more often on the offshore wrecks and on the ledge sites.
“On the inshore wrecks 30 miles out, [you see] 2-3 in a given area. [Further offshore] there could be 10-12 in some spots on the wreck.”
At the event’s awards ceremony, set for Oct. 27 at 7 p.m. at Crazy Sister Marina, Murrells Inlet chefs will be on hand to prepare lionfish and offer samples of the fish.
Lionfish is reportedly superb as table fare, resembling black sea bass, and the hope is to create a demand for the species in fish markets to put more fishing pressure on the invasive species.
The Yellowfin/Yamaha Fall Brawl King Classic will be staged by the crew at Ocean Isle Fishing Center Oct. 26-28.
Registration is set for noon to 9 p.m. on Oct. 26 with the Captains Meeting on tap for 7 p.m. Fishing will be held Oct. 27-28 with weigh-in both days 2-5 p.m. at the OIFC. Boats can fish one of the two days.
The tournament is the finale in the Southern Kingfish Association’s Division 9. The SKA Nationals will be held Nov. 8-11 at Biloxi, Miss.