News Release By Emily Stokes | REEF Lionfish Program Assistant

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On July 8-10, 19 lionfish hunters set out to compete in Reef Environmental Education Foundation’s (REEF) Sarasota Lionfish Derby. Vying for more than $3,500 in cash prizes, the 19 participants harvested 429 lionfish from Gulf of Mexico waters ranging from Collier to Escambia County. The Derby concluded with scoring and festivities at Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium on Sunday, July 10. Team We Be Dreamin’ took 1st place with a record-breaking 349 lionfish, the most lionfish harvested by a single team for the annual Sarasota Derby! Awards were also given for 1st through 3rd place for the largest and smallest lionfish caught.

More than 300 attendees visited Mote’s WAVE Center on Sunday to learn about the lionfish issue and get a taste of the delicious invader.  Following scoring, the fish caught during the derby were filleted by REEF staff and volunteers, and then prepared by local Sarasota chefs from Indigenous Restaurant, Mattison’s Restaurants & Catering, and Seafood Shack and Beach House.

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REEF Lionfish Program Assistant, Emily Stokes, scores lionfish brought in by competing teams. (Photo credit: Sarah Schindehette)

Lionfish, native to the Indo-Pacific region, are an invasive species in the Tropical Western Atlantic and are causing significant negative impacts to native marine life throughout the region.  According to Dr. Stephanie Green, Oregon State University researcher, some sites in the Bahamas have seen 65-95% declines in native fish in a two year period.  Impacts to valuable food fish like grouper and snapper could cause damage to the economy and ecology of countries in the invaded range.  However, regular removals and removal events are showing promise in reducing local lionfish populations and sizes.

This Saturday, July 16th, REEF will be hosting the Fifth Annual Fort Lauderdale Lionfish Derby at 15th Street Fisheries.  For more information or to register a team, go to http://www.reef.org/lionfish/derbies.

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Lionfish Ceviche is made at every REEF Lionfish Derby as a free tasting for the public. (Photo credit: Sarah Schindehette)

The Sarasota Lionfish Derby was funded in part by a grant awarded from Mote Marine Laboratory’s Protect Our Reefs Grants Program, which is funded by proceeds from the sale of the Protect Our Reefs specialty license plate.  To learn more, visit www.mote.org//4reef.  Additional sponsors include Ocean Reef Conservation Commission, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, ZooKeeper, Diver’s Direct, and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary as well as numerous local business and public donations.

For complete derby results and information on upcoming lionfish derbies throughout the region, visit www.REEF.org/lionfish/derbies

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