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A record 1,079 lionfish harvested at Mote derby

A record 1,079 lionfish removed from local waters

Fourth Sarasota Lionfish Derby has more divers taking part, a bigger haul, and a People's Choice cooking contest. Mote Marine and REEF combined to host the event to remove invasive species from local waters.
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Fourth Sarasota Lionfish Derby has more divers taking part, a bigger haul, and a People's Choice cooking contest. Mote Marine and REEF combined to host the event to remove invasive species from local waters.

Divers brought in 1,079 of the voracious, invasive lionfish to the Sarasota Lionfish Derby on Sunday, by far the most for the event in the last four years.

So, what does it mean?

Probably that there are more lionfish in local waters, and fishermen are getting better at finding them.

Danny Ward of Sarasota, one of four divers on the “Got Fish” team, said his team dove all day Saturday, and all morning Sunday to remove 315 lionfish from local waters.

“Got Fish” took top honors not only for most lionfish removed, but also first place for largest lionfish with a catch measuring 411 millimeters -- about 10.4 inches long.

Sunday’s derby, organized in conjunction with REEF, an organization of divers and marine enthusiasts committed to ocean conservation, was the fourth hosted at Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium, 1600 Ken Thompson Parkway.

In 2016, divers removed 429 lionfish, while in 2015, the total was 456. The number removed in 2014 was not available Sunday, but was reportedly the smallest haul of the four summer events.

Other top dive teams Sunday included “Zookeeper 1” with 248 lionfish, “Zookeeper 2” with 215, “Bradentucky” with 144, “Barbarella” with 77, “Fishadelphia” with 38, and “Sweet Pursuit” with 28.

We really try to control the numbers by taking every lionfish we can, although eradication of the lionfish is not going to happen.

Michael P. Crosby, Mote president and CEO

“We really try to control the numbers by taking every lionfish we can, although eradication of the lionfish is not going to happen. The best we’re going to be able to do is to keep it under control and do a better job from a fishery management perspective to manage the impacts,” said Michael P. Crosby, Mote’s president and CEO.

Lionfish compete with snapper and grouper, two of the Bradenton-Sarasota area’s most popular local fish, as well as with many other local species, said Shelby Issacson, public relations manager for Mote Marine.

Crosby called the derby a great event for a number of different reasons, including helping people understand the impact of the invasive species.

“All of these divers, all of these teams that are going out, are essentially volunteer citizen scientists with Mote. They are helping us acquire a great deal of information very valuable for our research program with lionfish, helping us understand the dynamics much more and hopefully will help us develop mitigation strategies to try to deal with this invasion,” Crosby said.

Also held in conjunction with the fishing derby was the cooking competition, where five restaurants served lionfish dishes.

Steve Phelps, chef/owner of Indigenous Restaurant, 239 S. Links Ave., Sarasota, won for People's choice award with his lionfish served on garlic toast.

“We started bringing lionfish into the restaurant about three years ago. We like the versatility of it and everything we could do with it. We started preparing it in a very simple manner, slicing it thin, eating it raw, tartar style, ceviches. It’s such a white, white meat that we’re able to use it in some different forms,” Phelps said.

We started bringing lionfish into the restaurant about three years ago. We like the versatility of it and everything we could do with it.

Steve Phelps, Indigious chef

Kristi Baird of Sarasota was trying the seafood paella topped with sauteed lionfish, prepared by Mattison’s.

“I haven’t had it before. I love it. It’s very mild. It’s delicious, not fishy at all,” Baird said.

Also serving lionfish Sunday were The Beach House Restaurant, 200 Gulf Drive, Bradenton Beach, with a Kaffir-cured lionfish waffle cone with coconut sabayon; Deep Sea Diner, 1600 Ken Thompson Parkway, Sarasota, with lionfish tacos, and the Seafood Shack Marina, Bar & Grill, 4110 127th St. W., Cortez with lionfish mousseline in ravoli with soft-whipped cream, toasted goat cheese, and fresh basil pesto.

The first lionfish people’s choice event was a sellout of all 175 tickets. Whole Foods provided the lionfish used in the cooking competition.

James A. Jones Jr.: 941-745-7053, @jajones1

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