Third Annual Lionfish Derby draws record crowd

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SARASOTA, Fla.-- One by one, volunteers measured and recorded the height width and weight of each and every lion fish Sunday. It's all part of Mote Marine Laboratory's third-annual Lionfish Derby.
The Lionfish is an incredibly invasive species, mainly because it has no real predators, but as a predator itself, it's a major threat to Florida's native species and ecosystems. In heavily invaded areas the Lionfish has reduced fish populations by up to 90 percent. 
"They're very fast reproducing and very venomous," said Hayley Rutger of Mote Marine, "so they can eat a lot of native fish, and they've caused some native fish populations to really decrease in invaded areas."
During the Derby, divers try to keep that growing population under control, competing to spear as many of the fish as they can. This year teams caught 429 Lionfish. Local restaurants then prepared and served unique dishes featuring the invasive species. 
"We can't put the Lionfish on our menu always, because it's a very inconsistent thing with the spear fishermen," said Indigenous chef Steve Phelps, "but when we can and we have it on our menus, you're cooking something you really feel good about, and that's awesome."
It was also an opportunity for scientists from Mote Marine to study the invasive species' population dynamics, behavior and adaptations over time.
"This gives us more specific information," said Mote Marine scientist Dr. Jim Locascio. "We know these fish are veracious. We know they eat a wide variety of prey items and we know that nothing is eating them," added Locascio.
Mote Marine not only measured the fish, but also studied the DNA content of their stomachs, determining what the lion fish are eating and which species may be in danger.
"By doing this we'll be able to know how much of what is in the Lionfish diet that's specifically related to those species that we value the most commercially and recreationally," said Locascio.