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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Here are the final standings and total numbers on the Lionfish shot and removed from the Gulf of Mexico Waters.
||Number of Fish
||Fear the Spear
||Making The Gulf Great Again
||Deepwater Mafia #1