EDITOR’S NOTE: The following was submitted by Mark Thompson

An all-Sanibel team composed of three 8-year-olds and an adult won the SW Florida CISMA Non-native Fish Roundup after weighing in with nearly 50 pounds of invasive fish May 5. The Sanibel team consisted of Yuan and Joy Bonhayag and Kai and Josh Schwartz. Mark Thompson and Scott Schwartz also accompanied the group to lend support. Yuan and Joy teamed up to catch the greatest weight of fish and the biggest fish awards. They were competing against folks from all of Collier, Lee, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades Counties.

It took about six hours of effort from the youngsters to round up these fish from Sanibel lakes and the Sanibel River. The team hopes that this showing will help put Sanibel on the map as one of the State’s premier invasive fish hotspots and attract nationwide attention for anglers interested in reducing the numbers of invasive fish here. Whenever the beaches are suffering from red-tide and dark, polluted waters, Sanibel can instead brag about its abundant invasive fish.

Unknown to most residents, Sanibel’s fresh waters are a haven for non-native invasive fish such as Mayan cichlids and blue tilapia. Lurking in any stormwater pond, lake or wetland, are large numbers of these invasive fish which are prolific, destructive and almost impossible to eradicate once they are there. The fish are the Brazilian pepper of southwest Florida’s freshwater world. Introduced to Florida through aquaculture and aquarium releases they reduce water quality by over-eating the zooplankton which prevent algae blooms and by churning up bottom sediments, releasing phosphorus and causing additional algae blooms. Fishermen know that once cichlids or tilapia move in, native bass and sunfish slowly disappear. They out-compete our native fish and are able to gulp air to survive in low oxygen conditions often seen in our ponds.

One positive note about these nuisance fish is that they are very tasty. The same fish you might purchase at local groceries are swimming around fresh in the pond behind many of our homes. All it takes is a cast net, a fishing license and a few good casts to go from being a dependent to a provider for your family. Help yourself, the island’s water quality and native fish by removing these fish whenever you get a chance. More information can be found at the CISMA website (https://www.floridainvasives.org/Southwest/).