Invasive species is something of an issue in Florida. From lion fish, to giant African land snails, to the Burmese Python -- animals that are not native to our state have managed to ensconce themselves into the ecosystem, and effectively start screwing things up.
But the Florida Fish And Wildlife Conservation Commission has come up with a plan to encourage people to help them get a sense of what non-Floridians creatures may be out there, wreaking havoc in our waters. As part of National Invasive Species Awareness Week later this month, the FWC has announced a special contest that'll get people involved in helping them with this ongoing problem.
See also: Florida's Seven Most Invasive Species
The contest, dubbed the Nonnative Fish Catch, Click and Submit contest, will begin this Saturday and run through March 1. The rules are simple: catch a weird-looking fish, snap a pic of it with your phone, and then submit the photo via the contest's app.
The weirder the fish, the better. And yes, there will be prizes.
Prizes will include gift certificates to Bass Pro Shop, and t-shirts. Adult gift certificates will be $75 for the top winners, and $50 for youth winners. The contest calls for people to fish i fresh waters across the state only, and the weirder ones will net the prizes. There will also be prizes for the size of the catch.
And, if you're not sure if the fish you caught is native or now, the FWC will let you know.
"We're asking people to report any nonnative fish they catch and if you're not sure if it is nor not, you can still submit it," the FWC Liz Barraco tells New Times.
"There's a lot of lakes in Florida, and people are already going out there to fish, so we figure why not do that and report it so we can collect data," Barraco says. "And, who knows, you might be able to win a prize."
Barraco explains that this kind of contest has been held locally throughout Florida in the past, but never statewide. In many cases, fishermen have been able to find and even discover a species of fish FWC didn't even know existed in Florida's waters. So, the FWC, along with the U.S. Geological Survey, National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, figured now was a good time to do it statewide.
"We're confident that there's a really good chance we're going to get interesting and new data," Barraco says.
According to the FWC Florida is home to at least 34 species of reproducing nonnative fishes, and new species continue to be found. Florida has a large number of canals and lakes, which can be tough for the FWC and other groups to sample for nonnative fish.
And, as has been documented on several occasions, invasive species can do irrevocable damage.
Lionfish are probably the most infamous of these invasive fish. But the FWC says that they hope the contest can help them identify new ones, or at least get new data on existing species. The early detection of a new, nonnative species could provide a better opportunity to control or even eradicate a population.
"The Catch, Click and Submit Contest offers anglers the opportunity to assist natural resource managers in finding nonnative species by doing what they enjoy - fishing!" said FWC biologist Kelly Gestring.
The contest is free to enter, and is open to all licensed or legally exempt anglers in Florida. You can visit Ivegot1.org on your mobile to download the app and apply.
For more info on the contest, rules and prize categories, you can visit here.