DESTIN, Fla. (WKRG) — Divers and spearfishers are gearing up for the 2022 Emerald Coast Open (ECO) Lionfish pre-tournament in Okaloosa County. The official tournament will be held from May 13 to May 14. The pre-tournament is scheduled from Feb. 1 to May 12.

“I’m just excited to see a bunch of fish out of the water.” said Alex Fogg with the ECO. “We’ve been doing some guys recently been seeing quite a few lionfish out there so we need some folks to get out there and take care of them.”

PRE-TOURNAMENT PARTY INFORMATION:

  • Friday, Jan. 28
  • 6 p.m. to 9.m. CST
  • Dewey’s Harborside 1835 Porch Bar Event Space
  • 202 Harbor Blvd. in Destin, Fla. 32541

Organizers prepared different lionfish dishes and gave out spearfishing-style prizes. One star chef was there to give lionfish fillet demonstrations.

According to numbers from 2021, more than 10,000 lionfish were removed from Gulf Coast waters.

So the majority of the folks that here are actually divers that are gonna be participating in the Emerald Coast Open. We had about 200 registered shooters last year. We’re hoping to top that this year. 

Alex Fogg, Emerald Coast Open

The pre-tournament offers monthly prizes to hunters. Registration is $75 a person before March 31, $100 after. The registration for the pre-tournament includes the two-day main tournament from May 13 to May 14.

Registration has started for the annual tournament. You can find more information about the rules here. The final weigh-in for the ECO will be May 15 by 11 a.m.

A week long event known as restaruant week will begin in May. The fish caught from the pre-tournament are sent to local restarusnt to make different lionfish dishes.

“The the purpose of the pre tournament is really gather a bunch of lionfish to then provide fish to the restaurants here locally come Restaurant Week,” said Fogg. “So the week leading up to the main event, which is mid May a different restaurant every night features lionfish and there’s a lot of awesome presentation.”

“So the more lionfish we get out of the water during the pre tournament, the more fish we can provide to the restaurants so it’s a win win,” said Fogg.

The Lionfish Removal and Awareness Day Festival is tagged onto the tournament. The full day of activities and weigh-ins will be held on May 14.

FULL LIONFISH EVENT SCHEDULE:

  • Jan. 1 Registration Begins
  • Jab. 28 Pre-tournament Kickoff Party
  • Feb. 1 Pre-Tournament Begins
  • May 12 Pre-Tournament Ends
  • May 13 to May 14  Main Tournament
  • May 14 to May 15 Lionfish Removal & Awareness Day Festival
  • May 15  Final Weigh-In / ECO Awards Ceremony

Lionfish drop-off locations are set up across the Emerald Coast. To find a drop-off location or become a drop-off location, click here.

MORE ABOUT LIONFISH:

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Committee (FWC) says Lionfish are an invasive species that have a potential negative impact on native wildlife and habitat. FWC encourages divers, anglers and commercial harvesters to remove lionfish in Florida waters to limit negative impacts to native marine life and ecosystems.

Read about the lionfish habitat and how to report a sighting here.