Sarasota lionfish derby makes a splash

- Sunday was a great day to visit Sarasota - unless you're a lionfish. 

While the invasive lionfish is said to pose a major threat to Florida's ecosystems, this weekend they created some fun, prizes and even some tasty dishes for many Sarasota visitors. 

The third annual Lionfish Derby brought in more than 300 visitors on Sunday.  The event was held at the Mote Marine Laboratory and divers removed 429 lionfish from Gulf of Mexico waters. The festivities included teams of Florida divers competing to catch the most lionfish, the largest lionfish and the smallest.

On Sunday, more than $3,500 in cash and prizes were awarded to first, second and third place winners in each category.  And what would this event be without some appropriate cuisine? Top chefs were on hand preparing plenty of lionfish dishes for everyone. "We've had a pretty amazing turnout, and I'm glad we teamed up to do this," said Chef Steve Phelps from Indigenous Restaurant.

This year's big winner of the Derby was team "We Be Dreamin'" with members, Michael DeRemer, Charlie Barnes, Koa Viravong and Thanh Truong. The team caught a total of 349 lionfish, a record for the event. 

The Derby was about more than just fun and prizes - it was also about educating the public and included educational booths about lionfish. People also got to get a look at gear designed to capture the nuisance fish. "This is one of the best lionfish events we've seen in over nine years of doing these derbies," said Lad Akins, Director of Special Projects at REEF.

Now that the Derby is over, what can folks do to help in the future? The public can help document the lionfish invasion by reporting sightings through REEF, U.S. Geological Survey or the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). And yes, there's even an app for that.  The app is available for smartphones and REEF also has a free Lionfish Sightings App for iPhone, which allows people to track and record lionfish sightings all around the invaded region. 

To learn more, visit www.mote.org.

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