OKALOOSA COUNTY, Fla (WDHN) — A record 24,000 lionfish were caught over the weekend during the Emerald Coast Open at Destin-Fort Walton Beach.
According to the Okaloosa County Board of Commissioners, divers from across the country came to Destin-Fort Walton Beach from May 19 to 20 to compete for prizes totaling over $100,000 in an effort to wipe out the species.
The tournament had a total of 144 divers participate. Divers competed in a variety of categories, with the dive team Deep Water Mafia catching the most lionfish, coming in at 2,898.
Every year this event gets bigger and bigger and wouldn’t be possible without the community’s support. We know that lionfish removal events have significant positive impacts on the local ecosystem. Hosting the Emerald Coast Open in Destin – Fort Walton Beach at the beginning of the season really does help our local fishery that is so important to our destination.Alex Fogg, Coastal Resource Manager with Destin-Fort Walton Beach Tourism- Release
This year’s total of 24,699 lionfish caught was a major step up from last year’s number, 13,835.
Lionfish have little-known predators due to their venomous spines. Multiple educational booths were set up throughout the event for the crowd, averaging 5,000 persons, to learn about the invasive species.
The Emerald Coast Open was hosted by Destin-Fort Walton Beach Tourism and Florida Fish and Wildlife.