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Sarasota Lionfish Derby Takes Bite Out of Invasive Species

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Divers and snorkelers removed 456 invasive lionfish from the Gulf of Mexico during the second annual Sarasota Lionfish Derby, which culminated today, July 12.

The Derby was hosted by Mote Marine Laboratory, a world-class marine science institution, in cooperation with Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF), which helps study and address the lionfish invasion and sanctions official Lionfish Derbies, and ZooKeeper, the Sarasota-based manufacturer of the leading lionfish containment unit used throughout invaded areas. The Derby was presented by Capt. Eddie’s Seafood.

Eight teams of 27 divers and snorkelers from Sarasota, Venice, Tallahassee, Fort Pierce, Palmetto, St. Petersburg, Tampa, Vero Beach and Boca Raton, Fla., and from Dallas, Texas, vied to catch the most lionfish, the largest lionfish and the smallest lionfish in Gulf waters ranging from Collier to Escambia County. The Derby lasted from the evening of July 10 through early afternoon on July 12, when cash prizes were awarded to first, second and third place winners in each category. Additional event proceeds will help support science and education programs by Mote and REEF.

Lionfish are venomous, fast-reproducing fish that have spread along the eastern Atlantic coast, through the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico, posing a major threat to Florida’s native species and ecosystems. They consume more than 70 different species of fish and crustaceans, and in heavily invaded areas they have reduced fish populations by up to 90 percent and continue to consume native fishes at unsustainable rates.

The only controlling predators of invasive lionfish in Florida are humans — and the fish are delicious to eat. Lionfish Derbies are an important way to harvest large numbers of this invasive species, train more people to safely remove them, encourage restaurants and the public to cook and eat lionfish and support scientific studies of the invasion.