Pythons are not the only wildlife threatening Florida's ecosystems.
Lionfish, a venomous non-native species, first showed up in Florida's Gulf waters in 2006 but began experiencing rapid population growth in 2010, according to a graphic provided by the Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF).
With no known predators, year-round reproductive patterns and resistance to parasites, lionfish can cause major disruption to marine fisheries and ecosystems by consuming large amounts of fish and crustaceans. Their prey include grunts, snapper, nassau grouper and cleaner shrimp.
Female lionfish reproduce quickly — every two to four days — and their offspring often outgrow the native species with whom they compete for food and space.
That's why REEF began sanctioning lionfish derbies across Florida in 2009. These competitive fishing tournaments allow teams to collect lionfish and educate the public through dissections and fish tastings. Over 12,600 lionfish have been removed by REEF derbies alone.
Sarasota's fifth annual derby will be based at Mote Marine Laboratory, 1600 Ken Thompson Parkway.
The deadline to register is Friday, July 6, with a mandatory meeting for team captains at 6:30 p.m. The cost is $120 per team. Teams must have at least two but no more than four people.
Hunting will take place on Saturday, July 7. Tournament boundaries will extend all the way down Florida's Gulf coast, from Collier County to Escambia County.
On Sunday, July 8, the public is invited to join Mote scientists and derby participants for the weigh-in. Tournament participants will drop off their catches from noon to 1 p.m. for scoring, and the awards ceremony will begin at 2 p.m. Awards will include the most, biggest and smallest lionfish.
There will also be a lionfish cooking competition. For $15, participants can witness educational lionfish dissections and taste dishes prepared by the following competitors:
- Chef Alex Vasquez of Mattison's Forty-One
- Chef John Mancini of the Deep Sea Diner
- Chef Steve Phelps of Indigenous
- Michael's on East
There are only 175 tickets available for the cooking competition. For more information, visit mote.org to register.
Follow Emily Wunderlich on Twitter @EmilyWunderlich.