Destin diver Alex Fogg caught 1,090 pounds, placing 2nd in Lionfish Challenge — by 2 pounds

Tina Harbuck
The Destin Log

He reached his goal of 1,000 pounds of lionfish, but missed out on first place by just 2 pounds. 

Alex Fogg, coastal resource manager for Okaloosa County, pulled in 1,090 pounds of lionfish to take second place in the commercial division of the seventh annual Lionfish Challenge, a statewide tournament. 

The competition, which came to a close Sept. 6, was stiff this year and participants broke several records in their quest to earn the title of Lionfish King or Queen and Commercial Champion, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. 

Alex Fogg holds one of the lionfish he speared while diving. Fogg recently took second place in the seventh annual Lionfish Challenge, designed to reduce the number of the invasive fish species in Florida waterways.

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Fogg was beaten by Paul DeCuir who brought in 1,092 pounds of lionfish in the commercial division. 

"We got close … but not quite," Fogg said. "I know the guy that was in first. He definitely deserved it."

Fogg made about a dozen trips during the three-month tournament, averaging about 100 pounds of fish each trip. He said some days he would bring back 50 to 60 pounds and others it was closer to 300 pounds. 

"It depended on the conditions and if the areas we were going were fishy," Fogg said, noting the largest one he brought in was about 3 pounds. 

A cooler is filled with lionfish during a diving excursion. Local resident Alex Fogg recently took second place in the seventh annual Lionfish Challenge, bringing in more than 1,000 pounds of the invasive fish species.

This year's tournament boasted 707 registered participants, the most in the program's history, according to the FWC. 

A total of 196 divers made 676 trips throughout the state during the tournament and brought in 25,299 lionfish, the highest total since 2018. 

Fogg said he dove a different spot every time out. 

"Once you go and remove them, it takes about six months before there’s enough to justify going back," he said. 

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Fogg said you don't have to go far to find the lionfish. 

"You want to get out to about 100 feet of water," he said.

"To be honest, there's plenty of public deployed sites right off Fort Walton Beach and Destin area that produces a lot of fish as well. Everywhere you go, you're going to find them," Fogg said.

Fogg, who dives for lionfish year-round, said the Emerald Coast is a haven for lionfish. 

Alex Fogg shows off the special container that he and others use to capture lionfish. The invasive species is typically caught by divers who spear the fish and put it in the container, which protects the diver from the fish's venomous spines.

"Here in Destin and Fort Walton, we have more lionfish than anywhere else. It's pretty rich hunting grounds here," Fogg said. 

Lionfish are an invasive species. They have no predators, yet they will eat almost any marine creature they can fit into their mouths. They multiply quickly. They are spiny and hard to catch by hook and line, but divers can scoop them up.   

Fogg said they poke the fish, put them in a zookeeper containment unit and when they get back to the boat, they dump them in a cooler. 

"So, you never really have to come in contact with them," he said.

Other winners in the Lionfish Challenge include: 

  • First place in the Recreational Division and Lionfish King was Isaac Jones — 1,018 lionfish. 
  • Second place: Baye Beauford — 863 lionfish. 
  • Third place: Helen Rodney — 800 lionfish. 
  • Taking third in the commercial division behind Fogg was Isidoro Bedoya, 1,008 pounds. 

The 2022 Lionfish Challenge was sponsored by FloGrown, a Florida-based fishing and outdoor apparel company.  

The Lionfish Challenge is a summer tournament that rewards divers for their lionfish harvests. The tournament is open to everyone, is free to enter and participants can compete from anywhere in the state. Divers receive prizes based on the amount of lionfish they harvest and compete for the title of the Lionfish King/Queen or Commercial Champion. 

Fogg already has plans to compete again next year. But before then, the Emerald Coast Lionfish Open is May 19-21, 2023.