Wildlife officials remove more than 15,000 lionfish from Florida waters


More than 15,000 lionfish were recently removed from Florida waters as the state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has started a more than three-month effort to remove the invasive species from state waters.

Nearly 14,000 lionfish were harvested in waters off Pensacola at the Lionfish World Championship and a pre-event. The Lion Tamer Tournament in Panama City Beach pulled in 1,490 lionfish, while 231 were captured at the Florida Skin Divers Association Lionfish Calcutta in St. Petersburg.

The tournaments Saturday kicked off the 2018 Lionfish Challenge, which continues through Sept. 3. The state agency doesn’t have an estimate on the number of lionfish in state waters.

However, among the lionfish captured over the weekend were five in Escambia County waters from 50 that had been tagged at public artificial reefs.

The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission offers cash prizes of up to $5,000 for tagged lionfish. The commission said more than 200 people have registered to participate in the challenge, which includes prizes for lionfish removals.

Earlier this year, Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill aimed at reducing the number of lionfish and other invasive species that cause damage in the state.

The bill (SB 168), unanimously approved by the Legislature, established a pilot program that allows the commission to enter contracts with people to capture or destroy lionfish, tegu lizards and pythons on public lands and in state waters.

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