The derby culminated on July 9 with a weigh-in and tasting at Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium.
In 2010, the lionfish population in the Gulf of Mexico boomed.
Lad Akins, director of special programs for the Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF), said the invasive population spread slowly until 2007. But in 2010, it exploded.
To help combat the population’s expansion, Mote hosted its fourth annual Sarasota Lionfish Derby in conjunction with REEF from July 7 to July 9. In total, teams caught 1,079 lionfish. That record-breaking number means more than 1.6 million prey fish will be saved over the next year.
Fourteen teams competed to see who could catch the most lionfish, the largest lionfish and the smallest lionfish.
“The most important thing we can do is to remove lionfish to minimize their impact,” Akins said.
Mote’s statement for the derby said that lionfish are venomous, reproduce frequently and pose a threat to Florida’s native species and ecosystems.
The lionfish caught during the derby will be sent to an eatery and will be studied by Mote scientists to help them better understand where lionfish are going and what they are eating.
On July 9, the derby ended with a cooking competition and tasting. Indigenous, Mattison’s, Mote’s Deep Sea Diner, The Beach House and The Seafood Shack competed in the tasting.
Stephen Phelps, chef and owner of Indigenous, said two things need to come out of the derby: people need to try lionfish and people need to figure out how to fish for the species. Phelps said lionfish could be the next type of fish stick, so long as people try it and catch it.
“It’s a trend,” Phelps said. “It’s a buzz. That’s when you have to grab it. It can’t end as a trend.”