More than 15,000 lionfish were removed from Florida waters thanks to several tournaments held across the state focused on targeting the invasive species.
Five of those fish were tagged previously by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) staff as part of the 2018 Lionfish Challenge, a removal incentive program that started May 19 on Lionfish Removal and Awareness Day.
“This is an amazing showing for the fourth annual Lionfish Removal and Awareness Day weekend and surrounding events,” said Jessica McCawley, director of FWC’s Division of Marine Fisheries Management. “Lionfish were removed via tournaments and the FWC’s incentive program, and the public got to learn first-hand about lionfish and what they can do to help at festivals like the one in Perdido Key held by the FWC and Coast Watch Alliance, as well as various other partners.”
Winning and setting a record in Perdido Key was Capt. Josh Livingston and the crew aboard the Dreadknot out of Destin, known as Team Florida Man.
Last year, the Dreadknot group of fishermen won the FWC Lionfish Challenge and they are on track to do it again.
“We should win it again,” Livingston said, noting they snagged 1,200 pounds of lionfish in the two-day tournament at Perdido Key a couple of weeks ago.
Livingston and crew go fishing for lionfish about once or twice a week and have an efficient working system.
He said they send one diver down per site.
“We can clean a site off in two to three minutes,” Livingston said. They average about 25 fish per site.
“We’re putting a hurting on them,” he said.
The Lionfish Challenge runs through Sept. 3. More than 200 people have already registered to participate in the statewide challenge, which rewards lionfish harvesters with prizes for their lionfish removals, tagged or not.
The tagged lionfish component is new this year and includes cash prizes up to $5,000. Lionfish were tagged at 50 public artificial reefs across the state. Harvesters who caught the five tagged fish took home cash prizes up to $2,500 and non-cash prizes as well. All five tagged fish were caught off Escambia County.
Although, Livingston and crew pulled in 2,403 fish during the World Championship at Perdido Key, they didn’t get a tagged one. He said they were fishing on private spots and not the public reefs.
Sign up and learn more today by visiting MyFWC.com/Lionfish.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission contributed to this article as well as Destin Log reporter Tina Harbuck.