Destin, Fla., May 23, 2023—Divers participating in the 5th Annual Emerald Coast Open Lionfish Tournament set a new record with the successful removal of 24,699 lionfish.
Last year’s total was 13,835.
Divers from around the country competed for prize money totaling more than $100,000 in an effort to eradicate the invasive species in the Gulf of Mexico. Lionfish have few known predators due to their venomous spines.
“Okaloosa County continues to be a leader in helping to create sustainable marine ecosystems,” said Okaloosa County Board Chairman Trey Goodwin. “We are thankful for all of the divers and sponsors who helped make this event so successful.”
The tournament had 144 divers participate, competing in a variety of categories.
The largest lionfish was caught by a diver from the team Dibs on Bottom and measured 17.95 inches while the diving team Deep Water Mafia caught the most lionfish at 2,898.
In addition to the main tournament during the weekend, the event also set a pre-tournament record of 5,139 lionfish caught.
“We know that lionfish removal events have significant positive impacts on the local ecosystem,” said Alex Fogg, Coastal Resource Manager with Destin-Fort Walton Beach Tourism. “Hosting the Emerald Coast Open in Destin-Fort Walton Beach at the beginning of the season really does help our local fishery that is so important to our destination.”
The Emerald Coast Open, hosted by Destin-Fort Walton Beach Tourism and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission was held Friday and Saturday with an award ceremony at AJ’s Seafood and Oyster Bar Sunday.
Nick Tomecek, public information officer, Okaloosa County