Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium: Divers and snorkelers removed 456 invasive lionfish from the Gulf of Mexico during the second annual Sarasota Lionfish Derby, which culminated today, July 12

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Sarasota Lionfish Derby takes bite out of invasive species

Top: a lionfish captured during the second annual Sarasota Lionfish Derby and the many small fish found in its stomach.Bottom left: Dr. Jim Locascio of Mote Marine Laboratory dissects a lionfish during the final day of the Sarasota Lionfish Derby, July 12.Bottom right: Lad Akins of Reef Environmental Education Foundation measures lionfish to help determine winners of the Sarasota Lionfish Derby on July 12.
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.

The Sarasota Derby culminated Sunday with a celebration at the Sarasota Outboard Club, next-door to Mote on City Island, Sarasota. There, the public visited educational booths about lionfish, checked out gear designed to capture them, tasted fresh lionfish ceviche prepared by staff from REEF and ZooKeeper, and watched lionfish be counted and measured by REEF staff and dissected by Mote scientists and graduate students involved in the RTR Lionfish Ecosystem Modeling Workshop through University of Florida. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and others shared information about the lionfish invasion and how people can help.

Lionfish captured during the Sarasota Derby were measured and participants documented the capture locations, depth, habitat type and number of fish found in a given area, providing vital data for research and monitoring efforts. Mote scientists examined the stomach contents of fish to help document what these voracious predators are eating. In addition, REEF staff use mathematical modeling to estimate how many prey fish could have been consumed by lionfish caught in derbies, based on the size and number of lionfish caught.

Once the results were in, Allie Elhage, inventor of Zookeeper Lionfish Containment Unit, kicked off the awards ceremony and introduced co-leaders from Mote, REEF and FWC.

“Every one of you in this Derby was a volunteer citizen scientist with Mote,” said Dr. Michael P. Crosby, President & CEO of Mote. “We got a tremendous amount of data, which help give us a scientific basis for management decisions. We’re probably never going to eliminate lionfish, but with science and the partnership with volunteers like you, we could gain an advantage in controlling what we hope will be an unsustainable fishery. This Derby will be an annual event here – I guarantee it. We’re going to grow this every year.”

“We all know that a lot of lionfish were removed during the event,” said Lad Akins, Director of Special Projects at REEF. “Efforts like this, taking lionfish out of the water, have a huge impact. We know the lionfish will recolonize, but every lionfish that comes out of the water means less pressure on our native species. Studies have been done in the Bahamas and the Florida Keys that show a single-day lionfish removal event can reduce the local lionfish population by 45-70 percent. So rest assured that your work removing these fish has a huge impact on keeping the population down.”

Meaghan Faletti, Lionfish Outreach Coordinator for FWC and a participant in the Derby, noted its value for public education. “Not only is it a great event for getting people on the water, but also drawing crowds here and showing them what they can do to help. Not everyone is a diver but everyone can play their part. We want to get people interested in eating lionfish, creating lionfish jewelry and getting involved in other ways. One of our big projects now is our Reef Rangers lionfish control program. You can adopt a reef and choose areas where you plan to clean off lionfish. We want to find out where people are removing them, where they’re not, and facilitate that communication.”


Derby winners

Team “We Be Dreamin’/Jim’s Dive Shop” caught the most lionfish and also the largest lionfish in the second annual Sarasota Lionfish Derby. From left: Allie Elhage of ZooKeeper with team We Be Dreamin’/Jim’s Dive Shop members Mike Dreamer, Kristie Gilford and Bob Richardson, and Dr. Michael P. Crosby, President & CEO of Mote.
Most lionfishFirst (award: $750):

  • Team: We Be Dreamin’/Jim’s Dive Shop
  • Members: Kristie Gilford, Mike Dreamer, Bob Richardson, Charlie Barnes
  • Where members are from: St. Petersburg, Fla.
  • Number of lionfish caught: 152

Second ($500):

  • Team: Low T
  • Members: Steve Sanders, D.J. Strott, Jeff Harris
  • Where they’re from: Tampa, Palmetto and Sarasota, Fla.
  • Number of lionfish caught: 110

Third ($250):

  • Dive Rite/Reef Pirate
  • Members: Alex Fogg, Meaghan Faletti, Chris Barton, Eric Chaignet
  • Where they’re from: Tallahassee and Sarasota, Fla.
  • Number of lionfish caught: 108

Largest lionfish

First ($300):

  • Team: We Be Dreamin’/Jim’s Dive Shop
  • Members: Kristie Gilford, Mike Dreamer, Bob Richardson, Charlie Barnes
  • Where members are from: St. Petersburg, Fla.
  • Fish measurement: 418 mm

Second ($200):

  • Team: Low T
  • Members: Steve Sanders, D.J. Strott, Jeff Harris
  • Where they’re from: Tampa, Palmetto and Sarasota, Fla.
  • Fish measurement: 418 mm (tied with first-place team but declared second place because they arrived at scoring second)

Third ($100):

  • Dive Rite/Reef Pirate
  • Members: Alex Fogg, Meaghan Faletti, Chris Barton, Eric Chaignet
  • Where they’re from: Tallahassee and Sarasota, Fla.
  • Fish measurement: 409 mm

Smallest lionfish

First ($300):

  • Team: Low T
  • Members: Steve Sanders, D.J. Strott, Jeff Harris
  • Where they’re from: Tampa, Palmetto and Sarasota, Fla.
  • Fish measurement: 122 mm

Second ($200):

  • Team: We Be Dreamin’/Jim’s Dive Shop
  • Members: Kristie Gilford, Mike Dreamer, Bob Richardson, Charlie Barnes
  • Where they’re from: St. Petersburg, Fla.
  • Fish measurement: 131 mm

Third ($100):

  • Team: Sweet Pursuit
  • Members: Eric Cote and Jennifer Ford-Cote
  • Where they’re from: Venice, Fla.
  • Fish measurement: 150 mm

Sponsors

The second annual Sarasota Lionfish Derby was made possible thanks to the following generous sponsors: Presenting Sponsor Capt. Eddie’s Seafood; Gold Sponsors Mote Marine Lab, REEF, ZooKeeper, FWC and Sarasota Outboard Club; Silver Sponsors Reef Pirate and Turtleskin; and Reef Sponsors Florida Underwater Sports, Team Frapper, Pelican, Speared Spearfishing Apparel, LionfishHunting.com, Trident, Lionfish Striker, Scuba Quest, Gulf Coast Lionfish Coalition and Narked Scuba.

Founded in 1955, Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium is an independent, nonprofit 501(c)3 research organization based in Sarasota, Fla., with field stations in eastern Sarasota County, Charlotte Harbor and the Florida Keys. Mote has 24 research programs and a variety of initiatives dedicated to today’s research for tomorrow’s oceans with an emphasis on world-class research relevant to conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity, healthy habitats and natural resources. Mote’s vision includes positively impacting public policy through science-based outreach and education. Showcasing this research is Mote Aquarium, open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. 365 days a year. Learn more at mote.org. Contact Us:Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium, 1600 Ken Thompson Parkway, Sarasota, Fla., 34236. 941.388.4441

 

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