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APRIL FOOL: Former Mote aquarium to become interactive seafood restaurant

The restaurant, “Fresh Catch,” will allow guests to do just that: catch their own seafood for meals.

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Sarasota will soon be home to a new concept in the seafood restaurant industry.

The former Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium facility on Ken Thompson Parkway is undergoing preparations to become an interactive seafood restaurant with a literal take on the phrase “fresh catch of the day.” 

Get ready for a restaurant where you’ll be able to catch your own meal. 

“From the start, Mote really wanted to figure out how to utilize the old facility in the best way possible,” said newly-appointed Fresh Catch General Manager Janine Carpp. “That’s when the idea for a restaurant formed, and I was brought on board.” 

Mote will begin construction on a state-of-the-art, fine-dining seafood restaurant called Fresh Catch as early as the end of 2024.

Officials at Mote estimated that it will cost about $2 million to transform the courtyard and tanks into Fresh Catch. Most of the funds were raised through private donors interested in adding something new to the Sarasota culinary scene, according to Carpp. 

The full scope of the restaurant is undetermined, but it will seat at least 400 people. The shark tank will be a focal point of the new concept and will house thousands of lobsters. 

After Mote’s new Science Education Aquarium (SEA) opens in early 2025, about 90% of the species the facility currently has will be moved to the new location in Lakewood Ranch. The ones remaining at the facility will be a part of a small aquarium exhibit located near the back of the restaurant, as something for guests to do after a meal. 

Guests at the restaurant will be able to pay an extra $20 for the opportunity to catch their own fish, prepared in a variety of different ways by Executive Chef Sal Monk. 

A few tanks will house some of the fish likely to be on the menu, such as grouper, mahi mahi, red snapper and Spanish mackerel. 

There will also be a tank full of blue crabs. For $10, guests can use a string and a piece of chicken to attract a crab for their meal. 

“It’s an interesting concept,” Monk said. “Certainly nothing that I’ve seen before.” 

Monk is planning menu items like grilled or fried fish, taco variations and homemade salsas and relishes. The idea is savory over spicy, he said. 

Mote’s goal is to utilize as much of the existing structures as possible while bringing in the necessary elements of a fine-dining restaurant. Most of the expenses will be to add the necessary plumbing and electrical to run a large-scale commercial kitchen. 

Monk and Carpp are also working on a specialty cocktail menu, which will include staple drinks as well as a seasonal rotation. 

Carpp said that, as of now, Fresh Catch will be offering only lunch and dinner. If the idea takes off as well as they hope, they might expand their hours to include brunch, she said. 

The restaurant staff hope to do a trial run of the restaurant in late 2024 for Mote executives and families, before a soft opening shortly thereafter. Doors to the restaurant should open to the public the day of Mote SEA’s own ribbon cutting.



Carter Weinhofer

Carter Weinhofer is the Longboat Key news reporter for the Observer. Originally from a small town in Pennsylvania, he moved to St. Petersburg to attend Eckerd College until graduating in 2023. During his entire undergraduate career, he worked at the student newspaper, The Current, holding positions from science reporter to editor-in-chief.

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