Destin-Fort Walton Beach Tourism and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission are getting ready to celebrate the 5th Annual Lionfish Removal & Awareness Festival.
- The festival, which takes place on May 20-21, 2023 on the Destin Harbor, aims to raise awareness about the invasive lionfish species and mitigate its growing threat to native fish in the Gulf of Mexico.
Lionfish are an invasive species that prey on native fish with no known predators due to their venomous spines. The Emerald Coast Open tournament is a key component that helps mitigate the growing lionfish threat in the Gulf of Mexico.
But it’s not just about raising awareness; the festival also includes the Emerald Coast Open Tournament on May 19-20. This tournament is a key component of the festival, giving divers the chance to compete for prize money totaling nearly $100,000 in categories like “most lionfish caught” and largest and smallest lionfish.
- Last year’s tournament was a great success, removing 13,835 lionfish from local waters. Tournament weigh-ins will be held behind AJ’s Seafood & Oyster Bar on May 21.
“The success of this annual event is undeniable,” said Okaloosa County Board Chairman Trey Goodwin. “It not only helps to remove this invasive species, but it brings so many different local industries together within a family-friendly atmosphere that’s accessible to the public. This event grows each year and it could not happen without the hard work of the Coastal Resource Team within our Tourism Development Department.”
Leading up to the tournament, the festival offers a unique culinary experience for the public. The Emerald Coast Open Restaurant Week features lionfish dishes prepared by chefs at local restaurants. Each dish will be judged, and the winning chef crowned at the end of the week.
But the festivities don’t stop there. On May 20, Lionfish & Libations will be held at the HarborWalk Village. This event will feature various local brews paired with food from participating vendors, giving attendees a taste of the local cuisine.
“Emerald Coast Open and the Lionfish Removal & Awareness Day Festival continues to grow and provide awareness of lionfish removal, which lessens the threat to our native wildlife in Destin-Fort Walton Beach,” said Alex Fogg, Coastal Resource Manager, Destin-Fort Walton Beach. “Our community sponsors make it possible for us to host an event that is not only educational but an enjoyable experience for families to attend on the Destin Harbor.”
If you’re interested in participating in the tournament or learning more about the festival, be sure to visit the official website at www.emeraldcoastopen.com. And for more information on the beautiful Destin-Fort Walton Beach area, head over to www.destinfwb.com.