Emerald Coast Open Helps Control Invasive Lionfish

In Brief:

  • The Emerald Coast Open lionfish tournament removed 11,844 lionfish from the Gulf of Mexico, including pre-tournament activities.
  • Winners included VJL Seafood for most lionfish, Deep Water Mafia El Gato Negro for the largest lionfish, and Lookin’ Back for the smallest lionfish.
  • The event featured the Lionfish Festival and Restaurant Week, highlighting conservation efforts and culinary uses for lionfish.

The Emerald Coast Open lionfish tournament, held during the weekend of May 17-19, saw an outstanding effort by divers who, as a whole, removed 7,411 invasive lionfish from the Gulf of Mexico while simultaneously battling rough weather conditions. Including pre-diving activities, a whopping total of 11,844 lionfish were removed from the Gulf of Mexico throughout the event. The tournament contributes to the overall health of the Gulf as the invasive lionfish species significantly disrupt the marine ecosystem by multiplying quickly and killing off large numbers of native fish.


“These divers put in a lot of effort to help our ecosystem against this invasive species,” said Okaloosa County Vice Chairman Nathan Boyles. “I congratulate the winners and extend an invitation to all the participants to return next year to Destin-Fort Walton Beach for this worthy endeavor.”


The event consisted of 147 participants from around the country and at least three international participants, all competing for a share of $125,000 in cash and gear. The contest category winners included 1st Place Most Lionfish: VJL Seafood with 1,776 lionfish, 1st Place Largest Lionfish: Deep Water Mafia El Gato Negro with a new record of 18.70 inches, 1st Place Smallest Lionfish: Lookin’ Back with a lionfish measuring 1.89 inches, and 1st Place Pre-tournament: Bob Brown with 590 lionfish.

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The tournament also included on-shore activities like the Lionfish Festival and Restaurant Week. The Lionfish Festival, held at Harborwalk, featured local vendors committed to conservation who hosted giveaways and provided education for families who attended the event.


Restaurant Week allows local chefs to showcase their creativity and the culinary potential of lionfish. This year’s winner, La Paz, a Tex-Mex restaurant located in Destin, celebrated their second consecutive win.


“I’m extremely proud of how this event has grown over the years,” said Destin-Fort Walton Beach Coastal Resource Manager Alex Fogg. “I want to thank all of the sponsors, divers, and volunteers who made this annual event possible. They stuck it out in rough weather and still brought home a lot of lionfish.”


Be sure to mark your calendar and purchase your fishing gear for next year’s Emerald Coast Open, which will take place on May 16-18, 2025.


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