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FWC extends Lionfish Challenge, harvesters to win prizes (VIDEO)

Tony Simmons
tsimmons@pcnh.com
The News Herald

PANAMA CITY BEACH — The coronavirus has meant fewer people fishing and fewer divers spearing the invasive lionfish, which has led the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) to extend its annual Lionfish Challenge.

RELATED (2019) FWC honors 2019 Lionfish Challenge winners

Lionfish are a nonnative invasive species that have a potential negative impact on Florida’s native wildlife and habitat, according to the FWC.

The goal of the challenge is to encourage and reward recreational and commercial divers to remove lionfish from Florida waters, according to information provided by FWC. Winners in several categories were to be announced at the sixth annual Lionfish Removal and Awareness Day, but the 2020 event has been canceled; the next event is now scheduled for May 15-16, 2021.

As a result, the Lionfish Challenge was been extended, with participants now having until Nov. 1 to submit their lionfish.

PHOTOS: Lionfish have high populations on the Emerald Coast

“We are always amazed at the hard work and dedication of those who are actively removing lionfish from Florida waters,” said Eric Sutton, FWC executive director, at the awards ceremony in 2019. “FWC cannot control the lionfish population alone, and it is your efforts that are at the heart of keeping lionfish populations in check.”

THE CHALLENGE

The Lionfish Challenge rewards lionfish harvesters with prizes for their removals. The participants who harvest the most lionfish will be crowned the Recreational Lionfish King/Queen and the Commercial Champion.

The challenge also has a tiered prize system that allows everyone to be rewarded for their removals. The more removals, the more prizes you win.

The program has recreational and commercial participant categories, with checkpoints located statewide for submission of catches. A tiered prize system encourages continued harvest throughout the challenge period, with monthly mini-challenges.

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As of July 30, 558 people had registered for the challenge; 113 have submitted lionfish (105 recreational, 8 commercial); for a total of 4,718 lionfish submitted.

Recent Mini-Challenge winners were Chris Campbell, Sarah Peirce and Michael Curry, receiving a YETI Panga Dry Backpack. The Largest Lionfish went to Josh Livingston with a 408 mm catch; his prize was a Shearwater Perdix Dive Computer.

Livingston, of Destin, was the 2019 first-place winner in the commercial category, with 3,192.8 pounds of lionfish collected. He was named the 2019 Commercial Champion.

(Last year’s first-place recreational winner and Lionfish King was Ken Ayers of Bay County with 1,194 lionfish removed.)

Beautiful fish, big problem: Local fishermen, scientists work together to rid Gulf of lionfish

Recent raffle winners received a Reef Ranger’s customized FWC Lionfish long-sleeve Dry Fit shirt and 36-ounce Yeti Rambler bottle. They were Clint Retherford, Mark Eglington, Trey Lockey and Daniel Fico.

Upcoming raffle drawings will take place on Aug. 19 (two winners), Sept. 2 (two winners), Sept. 16 (two winners), Sept. 30 (two winners), Oct. 14 (four winners) and Oct. 28 (four winners). All qualified participants (submitting 20 lionfish for the recreational category or 20 pounds for commercial) will be entered into the drawings.

Those who are interested in competing may sign up and learn more by visiting MyFWC.com/Lionfish. Or go to Facebook.com/FWCReefRangers, or FWCReefRangers.com.

GOOD EATING

Lionfish have become a popular food fish, according to information provided by FWC. The fillets are firm, white and flaky in texture and have a mild, non-fishy taste that is comparable to snapper, black sea bass or hogfish.

While the spines of lionfish do contain venom, the flesh is not venomous or poisonous. Lionfish can be found at many restaurants, seafood markets and grocery stores across Florida.