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

Place Team Name Number of Fish
1st Place Florida Man 2241
2nd Place Fear the Spear 2059
3rd Place Diamond Diver 1674
4th Place Reef Rapper 1463
5th Place Making The Gulf Great Again 1372
6th Place Deepwater Mafia #1 518
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

Place Team Name Size
1st Place Killer BS 440
2nd Place Reef Rapper 439
3rd Place Jen Speara Day 427
4th Place Full Stringer 427
5th Place Florida Man 422
6th Place 6-8 Divers 421
1st Killer Bees

1st Place Killer Bees

Smallest Lionfish

Place Team Name Smallest
1st Place Diamond Diver 75
2nd Place Fear the Spear 81
3rd Place Florida Man 85
4th Place Deepwater Mafia #4 88
5th Place Reef Rapper 92
6th Place Lion and Weight 92
1st Diamond Divers

1st Place Diamond Divers

4th Deep Water Mafia 4

4th Place Deep Water Mafia 4

Total Standings by Team

Place Team Name Number of Fish
1 Florida Man 2241
2 Fear the Spear 2059
3 Diamond Diver 1674
4 Reef Rapper 1463
5 Making The Gulf Great Again 1372
6 Deepwater Mafia #1 518
7 Full Stringer 478
8 Food Stamps 378
9 Under Pressure 366
10 Hang On 342
11 Jaw Jacker 319
12 Lion and Weight 293
13 John Stamos 285
14 Off Duty 262
15 Deepwater Mafia #2 255
16 Texas Lionfish Slayers 196
17 Sea Tigers 177
18 Deepwater Mafia On It 174
19 SeaLeg 170
20 Lookin Back 164
21 Zookeeper/Proweb 149
22 Waiver Boyz 141
23 Eli’s Inhieritance 108
24 Team Semper Salty 91
25 Team SpearIt 80
26 Down N’ Out 70
26 Team Reef Cleaner 65
27 Fish Dive Hunt 44
28 Fletcher 34
29 Texas Lionfish Hitman 28
30 6-8 Divers 24
31 Killer BS 20
32 Team Sullivan 15
33 InexSPEARienced 10
34 Team 10 Fish 10
35 Tony B 9
36 Rum Fish 8
37 Lionfish Slayers 8
38 Kae Kae 7
39 Deepwater Mafia #4 4
40 Toes in the Sand 3
41 First Coast 3
42 Jen Speara Day 1
43 Easy Diver 1
2-day Total Lionfish Removed 14,119
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