The discovery of a rare scratcher wrasse was the highlight of the last Blacktip Island Invitational Fish Identification Tournament. (Photo courtesy of Lonnie Huffman)
The Society to Protect Aquatic Wildlife Now’s 43rd Fish Identification Invitational Tournament returns to Blacktip Island this Saturday and Sunday after a two-year hiatus.
“We got blackballed three years ago after the culling fiasco,” island mayor Jack Cobia said. “No one told us an island-wide lionfish hunt was going on that same day.
“The counts were horrible, and five, six competitors got speared by over-aggressive cullers,” Cobia said. “There were reports of non-lionfish getting culled, too. SPAWN banned IDing here until we could get that situation under control.”
Tournament organizers are excited to be back on Blacktip.
“Blacktip Island’s one of the region’s premier competitive fish ID spots,” said SPAWN president Olive Beaugregory. “The marine parks ensure great species diversity, and the Central Caribbean Drift goes right past here, bringing nutrients and exotic species.
“We’ve found gassy basslets, jack blennys, even a scratcher wrasse here,” Beaugregory said. “We’ve been itching to bring this tournament back to these reefs, so long as we can do that safely.”
As ever, participation in the tournament is restricted to fish identifiers who have won or placed in previous regional tournaments this fish ID season.
Among the competitors are points leader Bess Porgy, defending champion Laika Sturgeon, and local IDing phenom Ginger Bass, who’s having a stand-out sophomore year in the pros.
“Competitive IDing’s a fish-eat-fish world,” Bass said. “Sure, Blacktip’s my home turf, but I’ll still have one eye on the fish and the other behind my back.”
Teams of two SPAWN-certified judges will accompany each competitor to verify findings and to deter the unsportsmanlike behavior that has crept into the sport recently.
“Used to be, you’d stick canned tuna in your competitor’s BCD pocket, or rub them down with squid juice,” Beaugregory said. “Then last year in Belize it escalated to clipping mini chumsicles on your competitors to draw sharks. This year our people will make sure nothing fishy happens.
“Two judges per IDer means one can come up to swap out an air tank while the other keeps watch,” Beaugregory said. “And we’ll be patting down all the divers each morning, whether they like it or not. Most do.”
The tournament winner will receive the coveted Golden Coney trophy, $1,000 and a 10-point bump league standings.
Other tournament-related activities include a fish fry, and underwater chili cook off, a children’s Go Fish card tournament and free screenings of the 1960s Hollywood classics “Hello Down There” and “The Incredible Mr. Limpet.”