Florida’s 7th annual Lionfish Challenge just ended in record book fashion, which will greatly benefit the state’s reef fishes and fishermen.
Lionfish are an invasive, aggressive non-native species now abundant in Florida. Lionfish are native to the Indo-Pacific and they are prolific and displace native Florida fish and diminishes their number on reef habitats.
The 2022 Lionfish Challenge ended on Sept. 6, and 707 participants were entered in the popular event – the most ever for the statewide diver competition.
The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) reports the 2022 contest had the most registered divers in challenge history, with 196 people making 676 dives throughout Florida’s coastal waters during a three-month span.
FWC says that divers collected a remarkable 25,299 lionfish, the most ever since the challenge began in 2018.
Winners of the 2022 Lionfish Challenge were:
- Lionfish King (first place recreational division): Isaac Jones, 1,018 lionfish; second place recreational division – Baye Beauford, 863 lionfish; third place recreational division – Helen Rodney, 800 lionfish.
- Commercial Champion (first place commercial division): Paul DeCuir, 1,092 pounds of lionfish; second place commercial division – Alex Fogg, 1,090 pounds of lionfish; third place commercial division – Isidoro Bedoya – 1,008 pounds of lionfish.
The Lionfish Challenge is a summer-long tournament that rewards divers for their lionfish harvests. The tournament is open to everyone, is completely free to enter and participants can compete from anywhere in the Florida. Divers receive prizes based on the amount of lionfish they harvest and compete for the title of the Lionfish King/Queen or Commercial Champion.
Lionfish are excellent on the dinner table, but they have poisonous spines and can be difficult for divers to handle, and people to clean for eating. However, experts do well in collecting the prolific reef invasive lionfish, and when properly cleaned and prepared by a chef, they are a superb and desired food fish in restaurants and homes.
They’re also sold in seafood retail outlets throughout much of Florida.