Sport divers are taking an increasing toll on inshore Pterois lionfish in Florida waters. Image: Florida Sportsman

Sport divers are taking an increasing toll on inshore Pterois lionfish in Florida waters. Image: Florida Sportsman

Lionfish tournaments remove 15,000 lionfish, including five tagged Lionfish Challenge fish

via Florida Fish and Wildlife

More than invasive 15,000 Pterois spp. lionfish were removed from Florida waters thanks to several spring tournaments held across the state focused on targeting the highly predatory species that is considered a serious threat to native fishes in Florida, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean.

At a current retail price of about $40 for a live Volitans Lionfish in the aquarium trade, the value of fish speared and eaten totals an estimated $600,000. Aquarists releasing unwanted pet fish are often blamed for the lionfish invasion, although scientists continue to debate the origin of this plague.

Five of the fish taken in the most-recent hunt had been tagged previously by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) staff as part of the 2018 Lionfish Challenge, a removal incentive program that started May 19 on Lionfish Removal and Awareness Day.

“This is an amazing showing for the fourth annual Lionfish Removal and Awareness Day weekend and surrounding events,” said Jessica McCawley, director of FWC’s Division of Marine Fisheries Management. “Lionfish were removed via tournaments and the FWC’s incentive program, and the public got to learn first-hand about lionfish and what they can do to help at festivals like the one in Perdido Key held by the FWC and Coast Watch Alliance, as well as various other partners.”

Statewide Lionfish Events Removal Totals:

  • 9,606 – Lionfish World Championship – Pensacola.
  • 4,056 – Lionfish World Championship Pre-Tournament – Pensacola.
  • 1,490 – Lion Tamer Tournament – Panama City Beach.
  • 231 – Florida Skin Divers Association Lionfish Calcutta – St. Petersburg.
  • Postponed – Sebastian Lionfish Tournament – Sebastian.

Florida’s lionfish posse has both mounting success and a growing range of team gear.

The Lionfish Challenge runs through Sept. 3. More than 200 people have already registered to participate in the statewide Challenge, which rewards lionfish harvesters with prizes for their lionfish removals, tagged or not. The tagged lionfish component is new this year and includes cash prizes up to $5,000. Lionfish were tagged at 50 public artificial reefs across the state. Harvesters who caught the five tagged fish this weekend took home cash prizes up to $2,500 and non-cash prizes as well. All five tagged fish were caught off Escambia County.

Sign up and learn more today by visiting

The FWC thanks all of the sponsors and organizations across the state that helped make this Lionfish Removal and Awareness Day event a success.

Remember, lionfish and other exotic pets that can no longer be cared for should never be released into Florida waters or lands. To learn more about where to surrender an exotic pet for adoption, visit and click on “Nonnative Species” and “Exotic Pet Amnesty Program.

Image Credit (top): Florida Sportsman


Support Florida lionfish control programs by purchasing new Rep Your Water lionfish hats at Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida.



Free CORAL Newsletter

Join our email list to get the latest on new species, aquatic news and brilliant images chosen by our editors.

Thank you! You have successfully subscribed to the CORAL Magazine e-newsletter.