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Emerald Coast Open sees major success in lionfish removal despite rough weather

Destin, Florida – Over the weekend of May 17-19, the Emerald Coast Open lionfish tournament saw a successful turnout despite challenging weather conditions in the Gulf of Mexico. Divers gathered to remove a significant number of invasive lionfish, a species known for its detrimental impact on local ecosystems. The tournament, which took place in Destin-Fort Walton Beach, involved intense efforts from participants to cull these venomous fish from the waters.

Tournament Triumphs

The event attracted 147 divers, including competitors from across the United States and three international participants, all vying for $125,000 in cash and gear. The collective efforts during the tournament and the preceding activities led to the removal of 11,844 lionfish, including 7,411 during the weekend event alone. The substantial catch highlights the ongoing commitment to controlling this invasive species, which has few natural predators and poses a significant threat to marine biodiversity.

Related article: Destin-Fort Walton Beach to host the annual Emerald Coast Open

Record-Breaking Catches and Community Engagement

This year’s competition saw remarkable achievements with team VJL Seafood capturing first place by removing an impressive 1,776 lionfish. The Deep Water Mafia El Gato Negro set a new record by catching the largest lionfish, measuring 18.70 inches. Meanwhile, the smallest catch accolade went to Lookin’ Back for a lionfish measuring just 1.89 inches. Bob Brown led the pre-tournament phase with 590 lionfish removed.

The tournament also featured the Lionfish Festival and Restaurant Week, which drew conservation vendors and culinary experts to the HarborWalk. These events offered educational activities, giveaways, and showcased lionfish as a sustainable menu item. Local restaurant La Paz won the culinary competition for the second consecutive year, celebrating the potential of lionfish as a delicacy.

Read also: Gulf of Mexico gets new marine habitats with $1.26 million artificial reef project

Acknowledgments and Looking Ahead

Nathan Boyles, Vice Chairman of Okaloosa County, commended the divers for their efforts and encouraged their return next year. Alex Fogg, Coastal Resource Manager for Destin-Fort Walton Beach, expressed pride in the event’s growth and its role in raising awareness and reducing the numbers of lionfish. He thanked the sponsors, divers, and volunteers for their dedication, especially given the rough weather conditions faced during the event.

The community is already looking forward to the next Emerald Coast Open scheduled for May 16-18, 2025. For more information and updates on future events, interested parties are encouraged to visit the official website at emeraldcostopen.com.

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