Successful is too small of a word to describe the second annual Lionfish Removal and Awareness Day Festival May 14-15. In nearby Pensacola alone, 8,089 lionfish were removed in only two days at the Gulf Coast Lionfish Coalition Tournament. More than 7,000 people (more than double last year’s numbers) attended the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) festival, where visitors got to taste lionfish, see filet demonstrations, check out art and conservation booths and much more. And if that wasn’t enough, Charles Meyling of Montgomery broke the state record for longest lionfish caught in Gulf waters when he brought in a 445 millimeter lionfish (previous record was 438 millimeters).
At FWC supported events statewide that weekend and leading up to that weekend, another 5,978 lionfish were removed for a total of 14,067 statewide (2,975 lionfish were removed statewide in 2015).
“These numbers are a great example of the agency’s efforts to get the public educated about and involved in lionfish removal,” said Jessica McCawley, Division of Marine Fisheries Management director. “Events like this one will encourage continued involvement in proactively and successfully removing lionfish.”
Thanks to the growing interest in lionfish as a food fish, many lionfish harvested around the state will be sold commercially in places like New Orleans, Atlanta, Destin, in Florida Whole Foods, and by Edible Invaders in Pensacola. Another selection will go to Wharton and Brandon high schools in Hillsborough County, where three students will be studying lionfish diet using DNA barcoding for an upcoming STEM fair project.
Lionfish Removal and Awareness Day (first Saturday after Mother’s Day) was created by FWC Commissioners to raise awareness about lionfish – nonnative, invasive species that have a potential negative impact on native species and habitat.
The FWC thanks all of the sponsors and organizations across the state that helped make this day possible.
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 MyFWC.com/WildlifeHabitats and click on “Nonnative Species” and “Exotic Pet Amnesty Program.”
Statewide Lionfish Event Removal Totals:
655 – FSDA Lionfish Calcutta – St. Petersburg
3,478 – Northeast Florida Lionfish Blast – Jacksonville
727 – Lion Tamer Tournament – Panama City Beach
25 – Reef Environmental Education Foundation – Key Largo
31 – Sebastian Lionfish Fest – Sebastian
1,062 – Gulf Coast Lionfish Coalition Pre-Tournament – Pensacola