TAMPA (FOX 13) - The state of Florida says its "Lionfish Challenge" program is working, with nearly 10,000 of the exotic invaders pulled from state waters since May.
Florida Fish & Wildlife says the exact number lionfish harvested in the program is 9,216, with just over a month to go. One diver alone -- David Garrett of Ormond Beach -- is well on his way to being named "Lionfish King" for grabbing 1,262 so far. John McCain is in second place with 380.
The Lionfish Challenge is a FWC program that provides incentives for divers to kill lionfish, which are an invasive species that threatens to displace native fish. The critters are covered with venomous spines that can cause painful stings, so harvesting tends to require a spear or sling, though nets are also permitted.
Any diver who harvests 50 or more lionfish qualifies for the challenge and could get rewards like commemorative coins, t-shirts, and fishing gear. Additional incentives are available for fish caught off Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton, Bay, Gulf and Franklin counties, where lionfish concentration is higher.
In addition to the challenge, the state has sponsored programs encouraging chefs to create lionfish recipes in hopes of driving up commercial demand for their harvest.
For more information on the Lionfish Challenge and other programs, visit the FWC's website: myfwc.com/fishing/saltwater/recreational/lionfish/challenge/. You can also report lionfish sightings and see where they've been spotted at www.reefrangers.com.