Lionfish Challenge encourages removal of nearly 10,000 lionfish so far

A total of 9,216 lionfish have been removed from Florida waters so far thanks to participants in the Lionfish Challenge and Panhandle Pilot Program.

Since the May 14 kickoff, 68 divers have entered the statewide Lionfish Challenge, which rewards divers for taking 50 or more lionfish. Twenty-three of those qualified for the Panhandle Pilot Program, which rewards divers for every 100 lionfish removed from Escambia through Franklin counties, where lionfish densities tend to be higher.

David Garrett is in the lead for being named Lionfish King with 1,262 harvested so far, followed by John McCain at 380.

With a little over a month to go in the Lionfish Challenge, there’s still plenty of chances to take home a shirt or win a raffle prize.

This month’s Lionfish Challenge raffle winners include (from July 18 and Aug. 1 drawings):

  • Steve Houghland, David Garrett and Cindy Gaudette won Neritic polespears;
  • Barry Shively and Tim Speakman won Zookeeper Lionfish Containment Units;
  • Chris Gercken and John McCain won $100 dive tank refills; and
  • Dave Murphy won a $200 fuel card.

Learn more about how each program works below or online at MyFWC.com/Lionfish by clicking on “Lionfish Challenge and Panhandle Pilot Program.”

Lionfish Challenge

Remove 50 or more lionfish between Lionfish Removal and Awareness Day (May 14, 2016) and the end of September to enter the Lionfish Challenge.

Rewards include:

  • a commemorative coin to mark membership;
  • an event T-shirt;
  • Lionfish Hall of Fame recognition on the MyFWC.com website;
  • being entered in drawings to win prizes including fishing licenses, lionfish harvesting equipment, fuel cards and dive tank refills;
  • and, the person who “checks in” the most lionfish will be crowned Florida’s Lionfish King or Queen and will receive a lifetime saltwater fishing license, have his or her photograph featured on the cover of the FWC’s January 2017 Saltwater Regulations publication, be prominently featured on MyFWC.com’s Lionfish Hall of Fame, and be recognized at the November 2016 FWC Commission meeting.

How to Enter

Email photos of your first 50 qualifying lionfish to Lionfish@MyFWC.com and include the name of the harvester, the date harvested, your signature in the photo (written on a piece of paper next to the fish, for example) and your mailing address in the email. You can also submit your first 50 at an FWC-approved checkpoint.

All tails in excess of the initial 50 must be brought to an FWC-approved checkpoint (see list at MyFWC.com/Lionfish by clicking on “Lionfish Challenge and Panhandle Pilot Program”).

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 legal-sized red grouper or a legal-sized cobia that is over the bag limit from state waters. The state will issue up to a total of 100 red grouper and 30 cobia tags to successful participants in the pilot program. So far, 23 tags have been issued. 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. Two teams have qualified to name an artificial reef so far.

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”.