Second annual Sarasota Lionfish Derby to be held by Mote

2015LionfishDerby_WebsiteFeatureImage copyThe second annual Sarasota Lionfish Derby is an exciting and environmentally beneficial event that invites SCUBA divers and snorkelers to compete to collect as many lionfish as possible in an effort to control the spread of this invasive species.

The derby will be 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.

Lionfish are venomous, fast-reproducing fish that pose 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 that has spread along the eastern Atlantic coast, through the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico.

The Derby will take place from July 10 through 12, with the captains’ meeting on July 10, lionfish hunting July 11 in the beautiful Gulf of Mexico. Tournament boundaries are defined as Collier County to Escambia County. The lionfish weigh-in is on July 12.

The captains’ meeting is mandatory for at least one team member and will run from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, July 10 at Mote Marine Laboratory, 1600 Ken Thompson Parkway, Sarasota, FL. 34236. The meeting provides crucial information on how to properly and safely collect and handle lionfish, as well as derby rules and regulations.

ZooKeeper will have its lionfish containment unit available for purchase at the captains’ meeting. REEF will also make available puncture-resistant gloves to protect against stings from the venomous lionfish spines.

Lionfish removals will take place from the end of the captains’ meeting until the weigh-in and scoring, which starts 10 a.m. Sunday, July 12, at the Sarasota Outboard Club at 1604 Ken Thompson Parkway, Sarasota, FL 34236 (next to Mote). From 11 a.m. to about 3 p.m. that day, local chefs will prepare varied lionfish dishes with the fish caught during the derby and fish provided by ZooKeeper. Everyone can sample the lionfish for free, including derby volunteers, organizers, participants and the public.

The awards ceremony will start at about 3 p.m. July 12. Cash prizes will be awarded for first, second and third place winners who catch the most lionfish, the largest lionfish and the smallest lionfish. Winners will be announced after weigh-in.

Teams will net or spear lionfish while SCUBA diving or snorkeling. Lionfish hunting may take place along or offshore of Florida’s Gulf coast. Teams must arrange their own boat transportation, diving and fishing gear.

This derby is meant to support research and education. Each lionfish harvested during the derby can provide scientists with tissue samples and valuable data, such as length, weight, stomach contents and stage of sexual maturity. Collecting data on local lionfish populations year after year tells scientists how the population is changing over time.

Registration is required. To register, visit mote.org/lionfishderby. Registration is $40 per team member, with a minimum of two team members and a maximum of four team members. The derby is looking for sponsors as well, so for more information on that contact Allie Elhage at (941) 587-7206, or at zookeeperlcu@gmail.com.

Kaitlyn Fusco is the Public Relations Manager at Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium in Sarasota. She will be periodically writing for the Boca Beacon.