Destin Emerald Coast Lionfish Tournament

May 17th & 18th, 2019

On the weekend of May 17th, I attended the Emerald Coast Lionfish Tournament in Destin, Florida. I was supposed to dive in the tournament, but unfortunately I fractured a rib while playing ice hockey with the Hoboken Rockets two weeks before. Since I was unable to dive, I ended up attending the sponsors’ dinner. Muller Insurance of Hoboken, NJ, which was established in 1906, was a proud sponsor of the tournament. At the dinner, I met many great Lionfish educators and hunters. I had heard of and communicated with many of these people for years, but had never had the opportunity to actually meet them face to face until now. At the dinner we all sampled different types of delicious Lionfish freshly prepared in various ways.

Yummy Lionfish balls that were served at AJ’s Seafood House

Yummy Lionfish balls that were served at AJ’s Seafood House in Destin, FL

One of the Lionfish hunters I met was a fisheries biologist Alex Fogg, who is one of the best Lionfish hunters in Florida and the Marine Resource Coordinator at Okaloosa County Board of County Commissioners. Alex has a popular Lionfish video of the Pensacola Airplane on YouTube. Alex’s video has over a million views. I too have a Pensacola Lionfish hunting video, however mine is only up to 580,000 views right now! People really seem to be interested in learning about Lionfish and seeing Lionfish videos.

Alex Fogg

Alex Fogg, Marine Resource Coordinator at Okaloosa County Board of County Commissioners, holding up his Florida Man Award

Beside meeting Alex Fogg, I met Dr. Steve Gittings, Science Coordinator for NOAA’s National Marine Sanctuary Program, who invented the Gittings’ Lionfish Purse Trap. Dr. Gittings is extremely knowledgeable on the subject. See a quick video of him explaining his invention here.

Of course my favorite Lionfish people are Stacy Frank and Jim “JV” Hart from Lionfish University. They started a great group five years ago that is spreading the word about how Lionfish are destroying our underwater environment. You can get more information about Lionfish University at: www.lionfishuniversity.org.

Lionfish University

Left to right: Alex Fogg, Stacy Frank, Dr. Gittings, Roger Muller, JV Hart

On Sunday I attended the Emerald Coast Lionfish Open Festival and Lionfish final count. During the afternoon, I got some great photos with other Lionfish friends from Facebook and other Lionfish Associations like Reef. It was a pleasure to meet veteran Dan Pylate, owner, operator and boat captain of Off Duty Dive Charters LLC, Mark Miller from Mississippi, Alli Candelmo who manages Reef’s Invasive Lionfish Program and who is friends with my American Littoral Society in New Jersey’s tagging director, Jeff Dement. I also got the chance to meet John McCain, who heads Domestic Sales at Dive-Rite, and Rachel Lynn Bowman.

Off Duty Dive Charters

Dan Pylate, owner, operator and boat captain of Off Duty Dive Charters LLC, with partner

Dive Rite

John McCain, Domestic Sales, Dive-Rite

Mark Miller

Mark P. Miller, (CIO) at Century Bank, MI

Rachel Bowman & Stacy Frank

The best woman hunter, Rachel Lynn Bowman & Stacy Frank of Lionfish University

Reefs Alli Col

Reefs Invasive Lionfish program, Alli Candelmo

Allie ElHage, Designer of the ZooKeeper Lionfish Containment Unit, was participating in the festival with a booth. We had a nice chat and it was great catching up since the last time I saw him during a Sarasota Lionfish Tournament where I was on the ZooKeeper Lionfish Removal Team. Allie, who lives in Sarasota, FL, makes one of the best containment devices to store speared Lionfish in.  We also work together with the Lionfish University and helped Lionfish University to produce a great public service message about Lionfish that is coming out shortly. I will post it when it gets released by the producer on Lionfishdivers.com.

Allie ElHage

Allie ElHage, Designer of the ZooKeeper Lionfish Containment Unit, and Dr. Steve Gittings, Science Coordinator for NOAA’s National Marine Sanctuary Program

The Emerald Coast Lionfish Tournament was the most successful Lionfish tournament ever and was run by my friends Captain Andy Ross of Niuhi Charters in Pensacola, Marshall Holtsclaw of Perdido Bay and Alex Fogg, Marine Resource Coordinator at Okaloosa County Board of County Commissioners. The tournament had over $48,000 worth of prizes and merchandise given out and the first place team, the Florida Man Team, ended up spearing 2241 in only two days. That is an amazing number for four divers, meaning each diver had to spear 250 Lionfish each a day. There were five runner ups who also got prizes for most lionfish speared, that included: Fear the Spear, Diamond Divers, Reef Rapper, Making the Gulf Great Again, Deep Water Mafia #1.  What an amazing job by all!

Tournament Directors

Tournament Directors Andy Ross, Alex Fogg, and Marshall Holtsclaw

The Standings

Here are the final standings and total numbers on the Lionfish shot and removed from the Gulf of Mexico Waters.

Most Lionfish

PlaceTeam NameNumber of Fish
1st PlaceFlorida Man2241
2nd PlaceFear the Spear2059
3rd PlaceDiamond Diver1674
4th PlaceReef Rapper1463
5th PlaceMaking The Gulf Great Again1372
6th PlaceDeepwater Mafia #1518
1st Winner Florida Man

1st Place Winner Florida Man

2nd Place Fear The Spear

2nd Place Fear The Spear

5th Make The Gulf Great Again

5th Place Make The Gulf Great Again

6th Deep Water Mafia

6th Place Deep Water Mafia

Biggest Lionfish

PlaceTeam NameSize
1st PlaceKiller BS440
2nd PlaceReef Rapper439
3rd PlaceJen Speara Day427
4th PlaceFull Stringer427
5th PlaceFlorida Man422
6th Place6-8 Divers421
1st Killer Bees

1st Place Killer Bees

Smallest Lionfish

PlaceTeam NameSmallest
1st PlaceDiamond Diver75
2nd PlaceFear the Spear81
3rd PlaceFlorida Man85
4th PlaceDeepwater Mafia #488
5th PlaceReef Rapper92
6th PlaceLion and Weight92
1st Diamond Divers

1st Place Diamond Divers

4th Deep Water Mafia 4

4th Place Deep Water Mafia 4

Total Standings by Team

PlaceTeam NameNumber of Fish
1Florida Man2241
2Fear the Spear2059
3Diamond Diver1674
4Reef Rapper1463
5Making The Gulf Great Again1372
6Deepwater Mafia #1518
7Full Stringer478
8Food Stamps378
9Under Pressure366
10Hang On342
11Jaw Jacker319
12Lion and Weight293
13John Stamos285
14Off Duty262
15Deepwater Mafia #2255
16Texas Lionfish Slayers196
17Sea Tigers177
18Deepwater Mafia On It174
19SeaLeg170
20Lookin Back164
21Zookeeper/Proweb149
22Waiver Boyz141
23Eli’s Inhieritance108
24Team Semper Salty91
25Team SpearIt80
26Down N’ Out70
26Team Reef Cleaner65
27Fish Dive Hunt44
28Fletcher34
29Texas Lionfish Hitman28
306-8 Divers24
31Killer BS20
32Team Sullivan15
33InexSPEARienced10
34Team 10 Fish10
35Tony B9
36Rum Fish8
37Lionfish Slayers8
38Kae Kae7
39Deepwater Mafia #44
40Toes in the Sand3
41First Coast3
42Jen Speara Day1
43Easy Diver1
2-day Total Lionfish Removed14,119
Sponsor Roger J. Muller, Jr. Of Muller Insurance and niece Elizabeth

Sponsor Roger J. Muller, Jr. Of Muller Insurance and niece Elizabeth

Tournament Directors: Captain Andy Ross, Marshal Holtsclaw, Florida Man award winner Alex Fogg

Tournament Directors: Captain Andy Ross, Marshal Holtsclaw, Florida Man award winner Alex Fogg

The Great Tournament Workers

The Great Tournament Workers

3rd Biggest fish, Jen Speara Day

3rd Biggest fish, Jen Speara Day