OUTDOORS

Lionfish Panhandle Pilot Program ends May 19

Lionfish Derby scheduled for May 20-21 in Pensacola

From Staff Reports
Some of the lionfish brought in by the Aquanaut on Wednesday weighed more than 2 pounds. [TINA HARBUCK/THE LOG]

Panhandle lionfish hunters only have until May 19 to compete in the Panhandle Pilot Program. This year-long lionfish removal incentive program rewards divers for harvesting lionfish from the waters between Escambia and Franklin counties. The program may be ending, but lionfish are open for harvest year-round and there are no bag or size limits.

On Wednesday, Capt. Tom Schmitz of the Aquanaut dive boat in Destin took folks out and captured about 75 lionfish. When they got back to the docks they weighed some of the bigger lionfish that tilted the scales at 2.6 pounds.

For every 100 lionfish removed, divers receive a tag that allows them to take an additional cobia or red grouper in state waters, but this tag must be used before May 19. The first 10 teams who remove 500 or more lionfish also qualify to name an artificial reef in the Panhandle. To date, six groups have qualified to rename an artificial reef.

The program ends the day before the annual Lionfish Removal and Awareness Day Festival, which is May 20-21 at Plaza de Luna in Pensacola.

Destin will also have a lionfish removal event as well.

“We do the Lionfish Derby every year,” said Discovery Dive World Manager Bryan Kennington.

It also takes place on May 20-21, with weigh-ins at Legendary Marina in Destin.

Co-hosting the event with Discovery Dive World is Under Pressure, and the Sunday awards dinner is at Lulu’s at the foot of the Mid-Bay Bridge.

“(Lionfish) are an invasive species from the Indonesian peninsula,” Kennington said, “and they have no (local) enemies.

“They can clean off a reef in no time,” he added. “But they’re very good fish to eat.”

For registration information, visit www.discoverydiveworld.com/Lionfish_Derby_2017

A revamp of the statewide Lionfish Challenge will also be launched that same weekend.

For more information about the Panhandle Pilot Program and how you can get rewarded for your lionfish removals, visit MyFWC.com/Lionfish.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission contributed to this article.