Divers from all over Florida, nine other U.S. states and the Caribbean descended upon the Emerald Coast of Florida last weekend (May 16-19, 2019) for the world’s largest lionfish tournament and awareness event to date. In the two-day event, divers removed 14,119 lionfish from the Gulf of Mexico, in addition to 5,048 lionfish removed during the pre-tournament period, bringing the grand total to 19,167.
This year’s tournament saw more participants than any previous year and distributed $48,000 in cash prizes, with the first-place team walking away with a $10,000 check. The winning team, Florida Man, removed 2,241 lionfish among its four team members in a 48-hour period. Florida Man was captained by Josh Livingston, of Destin, Florida. His teammates are Joe Livingston (Destin), Rachel Bowman (Marathon) and John McCain (High Springs).
The full breakdown of tournament results can be found here.
After the tournament, we chatted with Alex Fogg, Marine Resource Coordinator for the Emerald Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau in Okaloosa County, who said the majority of lionfish captured went to market. Ultimately, the divers can choose to sell or keep their catch. Almost 7,000 pounds of lionfish were purchased by Halperns’, a seafood distributor that works with the Whole Foods grocery chain.
Why are Lionfish Bad?
Not all lionfish are considered “bad.” But, in areas where lionfish are non-native and considered an invasive species, like in Florida, the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean, they have no natural predators. This allows them to continue to populate. Larger females have been known to spawn more than 100,000 eggs every 2.5 days. An average-sized female lionfish lays closer to 30,000 eggs. Since lionfish prey on native fish species in these areas, they have been shown to reduce native fish populations by as much as 90 percent on some reefs. One lionfish alone can consume up to 20 fish in just a half-hour.
What most people may not realize is although the lionfish has venomous spines, it is actually safe to eat. Lionfish tournaments bring awareness to the problems caused by this invasive species and give divers a way to help.
Why Are There Lionfish Tournaments?
Lionfish tournaments are not new, but the awareness and events are growing with each passing year. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission states that more than 540,000 lionfish have been removed between 2014 and 2018 in the Sunshine State alone. Lionfish tournaments help spread awareness by educating the public on this invasive species and incentivizing participants with cash prizes for taking part in lionfish removal tournaments and derbies.
How to Get Involved with Lionfish Removal
There are a number of organizations focused on lionfish awareness efforts and removal. The best way to get involved with lionfish removal is to participate in removal events or get involved with a lionfish organization, especially if you have no prior experience with lionfish removal. Here are a few organizations where you can get involved: