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Old 05-10-2015, 06:17 PM   #1
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Default Pensacola headquarters for lionfish tournament May 16 & 17

Pensacola headquarters for lionfish tournament May 16 & 17

Pensacola is headquarters for Florida's largest lionfish event aimed at eradicating as many of the frilly-maned invaders from our waters as possible and creating demand for its tasty, white meat.
The inaugural Lionfish Removal and Awareness Day festival and tournament is May 16-17 at Plaza de Luna on Palafox Pier, and at nine other communities across the state — Kissimmee, Fort Pierce, Crawfordville, Panama City, Martin County, Jacksonville, Key Biscayne, Destin and Mexico Beach.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and sponsors such as Guy Harvey Magazine established the event to be celebrated the first Saturday after Mother's Day, annually, to help draw attention to the alarming lionfish issue.
"We are thankful to all the groups that helped organize the Lionfish Removal and Awareness Day Festival and Tournament in Pensacola, as well as all those who are hosting their own events across the state," FWC Commissioner Bo Rivard stated. "These efforts will help ensure we keep the lionfish issue on the forefront of everyone's thoughts and minds."

Lionfish are threatening Florida's economy

Lionfish are an invasive species native to the Indo-Pacific region and sport a voracious appetite for our native fish. State officials worried by its exploding population in the absence of a predator are desperately seeking ways to control them before they cause great harm to the economy, environment and fisheries.
The main focus of this week's event is a fishing tournament to remove as many lionfish from our Florida waters as possible. Lionfish can only be captured one-by-one by scuba divers.
Roughly 50 scuba divers have registered in the Pensacola tournament. Tournament director, Andy Ross with Gulf Coast Lionfish Coalition, estimates they'll be able to remove a few thousand as they compete through the week for $3,600 in cash prizes, scuba equipment and other prizes.

Blair: It may take a village to control lionfish onslaught

"Divers are coming in from all over...Georgia, north Alabama, Louisiana," he said. "This weekend is really going to be nice for diving. If the weather holds up, we'll have a great tournament."
Out-of-towners are even coming in for the festival, he said.

Robert Turpin talks about Lionfish Awareness Day and how to safely fillet a lionfish. Kimberly Blair/[email protected]

The festival side of the event features:
•Demonstrations on safely filleting the venomous lionfish.
•Family-friendly activities such as games and splash fountain play.
•More than 40 art, diving and conservation vendors.
•Food and music.
•Helpful lionfish information.
•Live streaming of simultaneous events across the state.

Appearance by Guy Harvey, world famous artist and marine conservationist. He'll also be signing autographs noon to 2 p.m. May 16 at Pensacola Museum of Art, where his newest exhibit is on display now through Aug. 9. He'll also be throwing out the first pitch at the Blue Wahoo's baseball game May 16.

Lionfish Invading Gulf of Mexico

Hungry invaders
Robert Turpin, Escambia County marine resources manager helping with the event, said since the first lionfish was documented in the Gulf off of Pensacola Beach in 2010, he estimates its population has swelled into the millions.
"That's not a worst-case scenario," he said. "That's pretty bad, but it could be worse. They could totally dominate the reef habitat if they continue to eat all the small fishes."
Before the lionfish gobbles up all the juvenile snapper and grouper and other sport fish we love to catch and dine on, Turpin and others across the state are pushing seafood lovers to gobble them up.
He's rounded up Pensacola's stable of celebrity chefs — Dan Dunn, Irv Miller, Frank Taylor, Gus Silivos, and Jim Shirley, along with other well-known chefs, to feature lionfish cooking demonstrations at the festival with a goal to get seafood lovers demanding the fish become a staple on restaurant menus.

Bills give legs to anti-lionfish policies

To further help festival attendees to acquire a taste for lionfish, they'll get to sample the fish at tastings scheduled throughout the festival, said Amanda Nalley, FWC spokeswoman.
"It almost tastes like grouper," she said. "It does not have a fishy taste. The challenge is getting people used to eating the fish. There's a misconception...they do not have venom in their meat. They're just like any other fish."
If you talk to wholesaler John Williams, co-founder of Jacksonville-based Gulf Peake Seafood, you'll realize Pensacola is behind the curve on acquiring a taste for lionfish.
He's coming to the county's lionfish workshop on Monday, a warmup to the lionfish festival, in hopes of recruiting scuba divers to help catch the invaders for his company, with a promise of paying $5.50 per pound. He says he's having a hard time keeping up with the demand for lionfish from Florida restaurants, including many in the Destin to Panama City area.
He says he's selling anywhere from 1,500 upwards to 3,000 pounds a week, he said.
"We're one of the largest wholesalers of lionfish," he said. "I have 20 divers working for me, and I need more."
The future of the seafood industry hinges on being a part of the solution, he said.
"My goal is to get rid of the lionfish, eradicate," he said. "It's hurting our reefs. It's eating baby grouper, snapper. Our restaurants find crabs and all kinds of things in their stomach when they fillet them."

Want to go?
•WHAT: Lionfish Removal & Awareness Day festival and tournament.
•WHEN: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 16-17
•WHERE: 900 S. Palafox Pier in downtown Pensacola.
•DETAILS: For the festival, call (850) 487-0554.; and Check out an interactive map at
Tournament: To participate in the tournament, visit to learn more or visit Or call Andy Ross at (850) 529-2475. Prize money will be awarded for a number of categories and there will be chances to win prizes with raffle tickets.
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