Records were broken over the weekend at the fourth annual Lionfish World Championship in Pensacola, and Marathon’s lionfish queen Rachel Bowman was there to contribute.
Team Hang On, composed of Bowman, St. Petersburg resident Meaghan Faletti, Nikkie Cox and Grayson Shepard of Apalachicola, caught 1,115 lionfish while diving 37 miles off Pensacola.
They use what’s called a Zookeeper, a capturing device, which can net up to 80 pounds of fish in one dive.
Keys Fisheries-sponsored Team Hang On came in second place at the tournament, turning in 1,115 of the spiny invasives. Last year, the girls and Shepard came in first with 926 fish.
The tournament, held May 19 and 20, was part of Pensacola’s Lionfish Removal and Awareness Day Festival. Lionfish have no natural predators, largely due to their array of venomous spines. They eat voraciously and breed constantly, threatening local fish species and the reef at large.
“We had heavy seas and lightning on the first day, and then the second day was picture perfect,” Bowman said. “That’s obviously why the numbers of this tournament are so high – it’s a lot easier to dive when you don’t have a small watercraft advisory.”
The turnout was phenomenal, said organizer Andy Ross, adding that 99 people competed in the event and together brought in 9,619 fish.
In first place was Destin-based team Florida Man, led by Alex Fogg, which hauled in a record-shattering 2,403 fish.
“I’d like to go on the record and say Alex is the Michael Jordan of lionfishing and we are merely the LeBron. The only reason I ever win anything is because Alex Fogg chooses not to participate,” Bowman said. “He’s done more for lionfishing than anyone I’ve ever known.”
Whole Foods is a big buyer of lionfish, which is where most of the tournament fish went.
Faletti is a former biological scientist with the FWC and Cox is an environmental specialist with the state Department of Environmental Protection.
From now through September, there are numerous derbies throughout Florida where divers and snorkelers compete to bring in the most lionfish for cash prizes. To find out more, go to www.myfwc.com/fishing.