Scuba divers catch record 24,699 invasive lionfish in tournament off Florida’s Gulf Coast

It’s hard to say which are more hated in Florida: the invasive pythons or the invasive lionfish.

But based on the numbers, the poisonous lionfish appears to be the best of the eviction efforts.

That became clear when the world’s biggest lionfish event – ​​the annual Emerald Coast Open Lionfish Tournament – ​​announced on May 23 that divers had caught a record 24,699 lionfish in the world. off the Gulf Coast of Florida.

That’s nearly 11,000 more lionfish than those caught in the 2022 tournament, officials said.

Equally surprising is the fact that predatory fish seem to get bigger.

The average for lionfish is 12 to 15 inches off Florida, but a diver with the Dibs on Bottom team caught a 17.95-inch lionfish at the tournament, officials said. It’s the biggest in the event’s five-year history and just under an inch off the state record.

The 24,699 fish were caught by 144 divers from across the country who descended on the Panhandle hoping to share $100,000 in prize money, officials said. The tournament took place on May 19 and 20.

A dive team known as the Deep Water Mafia led the event with a catch of 2,898 lionfish, officials said.

The lionfish is native to the Indo-Pacific and the Red Sea, but the species began appearing off the Atlantic coast of Florida in 1985. It quickly spread, appearing in northern Gulf of Mexico in 2010, according to the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission.

The species is known to have 18 venomous spines and a painful sting that can cause “changes in heart rate, abdominal pain, sweating, and fainting,” according to Deaths are rare, but symptoms can last up to 30 days, the site says.

This is an example of the haul teams like Alabama Jammin’ that competed in the 5th Annual Emerald Coast Open Lionfish Tournament.

The lionfish is also known to be the only species that blows water “in an effort to induce its prey to turn towards the lionfish before being devoured”, reports the FWC.

“Lionfish are predators that often stalk their prey around a corner. They can consume prey that is more than half their own length and have been known to feed on over 70 species of fish and marine invertebrates. “, explains the FWC.

“They also compete for food with native predatory fish such as grouper and snapper and can negatively impact the entire reef habitat by eliminating organisms that play an important ecological role such as herbivorous fish. that control algae.”

Florida also hosts the annual Lionfish Challenge, a three-month summer competition that drew “a whopping 25,299 lionfish” in 2022, according to the state.

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