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More Reasons Than Ever to Harvest Lionfish
by Sue Cocking, Guy Harvey Outpost Travel Journalist
Lionfish: they gobble just about anything they can fit in their mouths, decimating native marine fish populations and taking over coral reef ecosystems. They are colorful and tasty and now there are more reasons than ever for you to hunt them down and take them out.
The month of May– warmer water temperatures, calmer winds– marks the unofficial grand opening of the recreational diving season in Florida and the Bahamas, and the kickoff of a busy season of lionfish removal derbies. All kinds of incentives are being offered for you to harvest, log, photograph and eat your catch of these venom-spined invaders from the Indo Pacific.
The Green Turtle Club, a Guy Harvey Outpost Expedition Lodge in Green Turtle Cay, Bahamas will conduct its eighth annual Lionfish Derby June 24-25 in conjunction with the non-profit Friends of the Environment. Prizes will be awarded for the most, the largest, and the smallest lionfish brought in, and competitors will celebrate by eating their catch. The club was the scene of the very first lionfish derby in the Bahamas in 2009, organized by dive operators Brendal and Mary Stevens. The fleet of some 20 boats harvested 1,408 of the peppermint-striped exotics in the inaugural tournament. At last year’s contest, they took out 763. The event has become a model for other lionfish derbies throughout the Bahamas. To get in on the action, book your stay by calling 1-800-513-5257 and email email@example.com for an entry form.
Stateside, lionfish derby season opens May 14-15 with Florida’s Lionfish Removal and Awareness Day Festival and Tournament at Plaza de Luna Park in Pensacola co-sponsored by the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation and Guy Harvey Magazine. Harvesters can win prizes at this free event, which inaugurates the statewide Lionfish Challenge running through Sept. 30.
To qualify for the Challenge, participants must take out 50 or more lionfish between May 14 and the end of September. They can win prizes such as fishing licenses, fuel cards, dive tank refills and the opportunity to take one extra lobster over the bag limit during the 2016 sport diving mini-season July 27-28. Whoever documents the most lionfish over the course of the contest will receive a lifetime saltwater fishing license and be inducted into the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Lionfish Hall of Fame.
Especially for the Florida Panhandle, where Gulf waters have become a lionfish hot zone in the past couple of years, the state has launched a year-long pilot program running from May 14, 2016 to May 20, 2017. For every lionfish taken from the seven-county region, the diver or angler will be eligible for a tag to take either a red grouper or a cobia over the bag limit in state waters. Anyone who harvests 500 or more lionfish over the one-year program will have the opportunity to name an artificial reef.
And removing really big lionfish can earn you a spot in the Florida state record book. The current mark for the longest lionfish harvested in the Atlantic is an 18.78-incher caught by Captain Jimmy Nelson in Islamorada. In the Gulf, the largest in both length and weight is a 17.24-inch, 3.1-pounder weighed by Captain Andy Ross of Pensacola.
For details on these contests and rewards programs, go HERE.
Sue Cocking chronicles the Guy Harvey Outpost travel and adventure experience in regular blog posts on GuyHarveyOutpostNews.com/. For 21 years, Cocking covered the full spectrum of outdoors adventure opportunities in South Florida and beyond for the Miami Herald, including fishing, diving, hunting, paddling, camping, sailing and powerboat racing. She is a certified scuba diver and holder of an IGFA women’s world fly fishing record for a 29-pound permit.
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