DESTIN, Fla. (WMBB) — The Destin area is full of lionfish hunters. Captains gathered Thursday night for a meeting before hitting the water early Friday morning to collect the invasive fish.
“So if you’re interested in doing it, you basically go down to the reef. The lionfish are sitting there. It’s like picking up trash. If you miss, don’t worry, they’re gonna sit right there and let you try again. The good news is they taste good, so the more you get, the more you have for your dinner plate,” said Alex Fogg with the Emerald Coast Open.
The Emerald Coast Open is a prize-filled diving tournament to collect as many predatory fish as possible.
“So lionfish are an invasive species. They aren’t supposed to be here, and the problem is they’re causing impacts on the ecosystem that they’ve invaded,” said Fogg. “Here in Destin, Fort Walton Beach, we have more than anywhere else in their invaded range and with such a heavy emphasis on fishing and diving, we really need to do everything that we can to remove these lionfish and keep our reefs healthy.”
Over the three-day tournament, the Destin harbor will be filled with lionfish activities and events.
LIONFISH EVENT SCHEDULE:
- May 19-20, 2023 Main Tournament
- May 20-21, 2023 ECO Lionfish Festival
- May 20, 2023 Lionfish and Libations at HarborWalk Villiage
- May 21, 2023 Final Weigh-In / ECO Awards Ceremony
“So you can come down, talk with a bunch of different vendors. I think we have a little over 30 vendors that will be down here from universities to marine science centers, other vendors that are selling different lionfish products, there’s a bunch of jewelry that’s being made. People from Belize, Curaçao, there are people from all over the world coming to this event, which is really cool,” said Fogg. “For restaurant week AJ’s will be serving whole lionfish and tacos on Saturday, so if you’ve never seen that presentation, highly recommend getting down here and giving it a try.”
The final weigh-in will be on Sunday, May 21 at Aj’s Seafood and Oyster Bar.
A pre-tournament began in Feb. for local divers to start spotting and collecting the spiny creatures. This year, the pre-tournament broke a record for the Emerald Coast Open with 5,139 fish removed.
“While we have a lot of divers or a lot more divers participating in the pre-tournament, our surveys that we do every month suggest that there’s actually more lionfish on our reefs,” said Fogg. “So with any invasive species, you see ebbs and flows and it seems that this year there’s more lionfish on our reef. So with more participation and more lionfish, it’s a combination for records.”
Following the Emerald Coast Open, the state of Florida hosts the Lionfish Challenge, another prize-filled summer-long tournament to collect as many lionfish as you can and turn them in for money or keep them for food.