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Lionfish Panhandle Pilot Program

Saltwater Marine Fishing Regulations Florida Saltwater Fishing

Seventeen nautical miles off Pensacola lies a small artificial reef that now has a new meaning to some well-deserving lionfish hunters and a new name: Sgt. James Taylor Waldron Reef.

The team known as the “Georgia Crackers” was awarded the right to rename an artificial reef off the Panhandle after successfully removing more than 500 lionfish while participating in the Lionfish Panhandle Pilot Program.

They chose to honor team member Taylor “Curt” Waldron’s older brother. Sgt. Waldron was serving in Vietnam with the Army’s 173rd Airborne when he was killed in action, Sept. 13, 1970, at age 20.

“After the Vietnam War was over, very few cared,” said Curt Waldron. “I wanted to do something more. The world has forgotten him; but they will look at that artificial reef name.”

A total of 10 persons or teams who participate in the Panhandle Pilot Program may qualify to rename an artificial reef. The program started in May 2016, runs through May 19, 2017, and rewards divers with a tag that allows them to take an additional cobia or red grouper for every 100 lionfish removed off the coast of Escambia through Franklin counties.

Waldron attributes success to his team mates Bill Parsons, Chip Burger, Huston Parsons and TJ Huff. He also acknowledged Steve Hemmert of MBT Diving, and boat captains Doug Hammock of H20 Below, Doug Pacitti of Six Shooter Charters and Andy Ross of Niuhi Dive Charters for their support.

“It really brings a sense of accomplishment that somebody you care about is going to be honored with a reef name,” Waldron said about the program. “We were thrilled that the FWC offered this as an option. Thank you for making a dream come true.”

Only 4 teams have qualified so far to name a reef, and only one other reef has been officially claimed and named: the Moira the Mermaid’s Fish Condo off Escambia County claimed by the Texas Lionfish Control Unit members Bob Marshall, Brady Hale, George Riffe and Jennifer Day.

Learn more about the Panhandle Pilot Program by visiting