Invasive lionfish being targeted during Sarasota derby

Fishing captains are gathering in Sarasota to catch invasive lionfish.

SARASOTA, Fla. (WFLA) – They may look harmless as they gracefully swim along reefs, rocks and sand bars, but these orange and white lionfish have a bad reputation. This weekend Tampa Bay area fishers are working to reduce the number of invasive lionfish and provide good food.

Lionfish have great venomous defenses. They have spines that pack a potent sting, said Lad Akins from REEF, which stands for Reef Environmental and Education Foundation. And if that’s not enough, lionfish are expanding in numbers in the Gulf – at the expense of other fish.

Related: FWC offer: Harvest 10 invasive lionfish, get 1 extra spiny lobster

“They have a wide appetite, a wide variety of organisms that they consume,” said Jim Locasio, from Sarasota’s Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium.

That’s why fishing captains are gathering at the aquarium this weekend for a derby. The goal is to catch lionfish. There are prizes for those who bring in enough of the fish.

Alex Fogg has his sights set on winning. “We have some spots that we kind of scouted out and we’ll see what happens. The weather looks like it’s gonna cooperate for everyone, so everyone should be able to get out to their good spots,” Fogg said.

Hundreds of lionfish will find their way into traps, after being skewered by spears. “Heavy removal effort like this can provide a bit of respite for native fish to come back and recover, and every lionfish we take out of the water is less of an impact on our native marine life,” Akins said. “Lionfish are one of the best eating fish. They taste a lot like hogfish.”

Here’s the best part: “You can’t mess it up. Cook it any way. You can fry it, grill it, broil it, yes. Ceviche is probably my favorite,” Fogg said.

If you want to try lionfish for free, hop over to the Sarasota Outboard Club, 1604 Ken Thompson Pkwy. It’s right next to the aquarium. Be there on Sunday between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. to sample lionfish prepared by local chefs.


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