Nearly 10,000 lionfish have been removed from Florida waters since May, when the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commissioner kicked off its Lionfish Challenge and Panhandle Pilot Program.
According to the FWC, 9,216 of the invasive species have been removed from state waters. The removal of lionfish is considered important because the fish prey on and devastate the stocks of native species.
The Lionfish Challenge program began May 14 and runs the end of September. It rewards divers based on the number of lionfish the remove from the Gulf waters off of Panhandle counties, Escambia through Franklin, where populations of the fish tend to be denser.
Divers have a chance to win prizes ranging from commemorative coins and t-shirts, to being awarded Florida’s Lionfish King or Queen and receiving a lifetime saltwater fishing license.
For every 100 lionfish a diver takes, the state will reward them with a fishing tag that allow them to take either a legal-sized red grouper or a legal-sized cobia that is over the limit from state waters. One hundred red grouper tags will be issued, while only 30 cobia tags will be available; so far, 23 tags have issued.
Thus far David Garrett leads the challenge, having pulled 1,262 lionfish from the Gulf. He is followed by diver John McCain, who has bagged 380.
For more information about lionfish, or the FWC’s Lionfish Challenge and Panhandle Pilot Program check here.