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Get ready for the Emerald Coast Open with the Lionfish Pre-Tournament Kick-off Party on Okaloosa Island

Excitement is building for this year’s Emerald Coast Open (ECO), the world’s largest lionfish tournament that removes the invasive species from the Gulf of Mexico.  The family-friendly event features free food like […]

Source: Alex Fogg

Excitement is building for this year’s Emerald Coast Open (ECO), the world’s largest lionfish tournament that removes the invasive species from the Gulf of Mexico. 

  • But first, the public can attend a kickoff party Friday, Feb. 2, from 6-10 p.m at the Island Resort on Okaloosa Island.

The family-friendly event features free food like gourmet lionfish tastings, live music and giveaways. Attendees can also meet divers, charter captains, sponsors and organizers, according to Alex Fogg, Okaloosa Coastal Resource Manager.

“It’s going to be a lot of the same activities at the pre-tournament event that we’ve had in the past — food and drink — as well as live music and maybe a bit of smack talk between the participants,” Fogg said.

As the tournament has continued to grow since coming to Okaloosa County in 2019, the tournament needed a larger venue to accommodate the growth and have more space. Weather has also been a factor in years past.

  • “With this pre-tournament kickoff occurring in late January, early February, the weather can be a little bit chilly. So we wanted to move it to an indoor venue, and the Island Resort has been a huge supporter of the event in the past,” Fogg said.

“ECO is such an amazing annual event built around this invaluable initiative,” said Jackie Blue, Director of Sales & Marketing at The Island Resort. “The Island Resort is honored to be a sponsor again this year and excited to host the Pre-tournament kick-off party for the first time. We look forward to seeing everyone at the Island on February 2nd.”

📸 Alex Fogg, Coastal Resource Manager – Okaloosa County

ECO will have big numbers to beat from its 2023 tournament, which set records for most lionfish caught during the pre-tournament, main tournament and overall, plus the largest lionfish.

“There’s a lot of big numbers for us to tackle this year, so we’re hoping we have some favorable weather to get some folks out there to go harvesting, and put some fish on the board,” Fogg said.

Lionfish caught during the Emerald Coast Open (Kevin Dukes)

In 2023, ECO had 144 participants who removed 19,560 lionfish in two days (24,699 including the pre-tournament) and gave away $55,000 in cash and $40,000 in gear. Momentum continues building this year with more corporate interest.

  • “We’re getting to a point now where we’re having larger companies and groups wanting to be a part of the Emerald Coast Open, which makes our job a heck of a lot easier as far as organizing the event,” Fogg said. “It allows us to have a lot more money to be able to give away to the participants.” 

All donations go straight to diver prizes, unlike other tournaments. 

“No money is retained by the tournament itself. So that’s one of the perks of this tournament compared to a lot of other tournaments out there,” added Fogg. “This is 100% for the divers who are in the water doing all the work.”

The pre-tournament runs Feb. 1-May 16. The main tournament is May 17-18, followed by the Lionfish Festival on May 18-19. Lionfish caught during the pre-tournament must be donated to count, then get processed by Dewey Destin’s Seafood for festival tastings. Divers earn raffle tickets to claim over $60,000 in prizes.

Registration and more information is available at https://emeraldcoastopen.com/.

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Community Comments

“Would like to know this as well.”
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“This is Awesome/ Thank You for Your Service Reuse an Recycle”
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“Carolyn, there is two of them this year, the one at the fairgrounds is still on the 27th”
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“I thought this was scheduled for April 27th at Fair grounds in FWB.”
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“Is there a limit on the amount?”
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“Couldn’t the tennis courts be used for Pickle Ball Courts?”
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“How come we haven't heard about any charges or anything about the person who hit this lady ?”
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“Stayed at the Calypso resort last week. Overran with immaturity. Teens were throwing beer bottles from the balcony and dog shit while kids were swimming in the pools below.”
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