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Lionfish Take a Hit

Saltwater Marine Fishing Regulations Florida Saltwater Fishing

Florida crowns first ever Lionfish King

The invasive lionfish took a major hit in 2016: more than 16,500 lionfish were removed during the 4.5 month Lionfish Challenge.

“The success of this program really shows what Florida’s residents and visitors can do when faced with a conservation challenge,” said Brian Yablonski, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) chairman.

Lionfish Challenge

Name

Number of Lionfish Caught

1st place Lionfish King

David Garrett

3,324

2nd place

John Dickinson

2,408

3rd place

John McCain

537

4th place

Dawn Richitt

367

Lionfish are a nonnative species that were first noted in Florida waters in the mid-80s. They have since spread up the Atlantic coast and across the Gulf of Mexico. There is no natural control mechanism for reducing lionfish populations except for human removal.

The Lionfish Challenge rewarded participants who took 50 or more lionfish with a variety of incentives including a program T-shirt, a commemorative coin, the opportunity to take an additional spiny lobster each day of the two-day sport season and entry into raffle drawings for prizes such as Neritic polespears, $100 dive tank refills and fishing licenses.

Volusia County resident David Garrett, featured on the cover of this publication, took the most lionfish with a total of 3,324 and was crowned Lionfish King for his efforts.

A total of 95 people participated in the challenge from across Florida and other Gulf states.

A special thanks to the 34 dive shops across Florida that supported this program by acting as checkpoints. Shops located in the Panhandle continue to participate in the Panhandle Pilot Program.

To see a full list of participants and raffle winners, visit the Hall of Fame page at MyFWC.com/Lionfish and click on “Lionfish Challenge and Panhandle Pilot Program” and then “Hall of Fame.”

Didn’t have time to participate in the Lionfish Challenge but still want to get rewarded? Check out the Panhandle Pilot Program below.

Panhandle Pilot Program

The Panhandle Pilot Program focuses on lionfish removal efforts off Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton, Bay, Gulf and Franklin counties. For every 100 lionfish checked in from this seven-county region between May 2016 and May 2017, the harvester will be eligible to receive a tag allowing them to take either a red grouper or a cobia that is over the bag limit from state waters (all other regulations, including seasons and size limits, still apply). The state will issue up to a total of 100 red grouper and 30 cobia tags to successful participants in the pilot program.

In addition, the first 10 persons or groups that check in 500 or more lionfish during this one-year period will be given the opportunity to name an artificial reef.

To qualify for this program, tails of any lionfish harvested must be brought to an approved FWC checkpoint (list at MyFWC.com/Lionfish by clicking on “Lionfish Challenge and Panhandle Pilot Program”.