Emerald Coast Open (ECO)

The Emerald Coast Open (ECO) is the largest lionfish tournament in the world and the second largest spearfishing event! The tournament was created to help educate the public on the impacts of lionfish and promote the removal of this invasive species. Lionfish have very few natural predators in their invaded range and will eat almost anything they can fit in their mouth! This makes them detrimental to native marine life. To remove them from the waters, divers spear the lionfish, but be careful! Their spines are venomous. Despite their venomous spines, lionfish are delicious and can be cooked any way you like.

In 2023, ECO had 144 participants and removed 24,699 lionfish throughout the tournament – 19,560 in 3 days! ECO gave away $55,000 in cash prizes and over $40,000 in gear prizes.

What is a lionfish?

A lionfish is a venomous marine fish, native to the Indo-Pacific. Due to their ornate appearance, lionfish are popular in the aquarium trade. Lionfish were released into the wild, either accidentally or intentionally. Their population rapidly expanded throughout the early 2000s and they were first detected in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. Since then the Destin-Fort Walton Beach area has become the epicenter of the lionfish invasion.

Why are lionfish bad?

Lionfish are extremely detrimental to our waters because of a couple reasons.

  1. They populate quickly. Lionfish mature at a young age, and can lay thousands of eggs every couple of days throughout the duration of their lives. That’s a lot of baby lionfish!
  2. They eat almost anything. Lionfish aren’t picky and will eat almost any animal they can fit in their mouths.
  3. They have very few natural predators. In the places lionfish have invaded, there are very few natural predators that can help control lionfish populations.
  4. Lionfish are lazy eaters. Although lionfish are sometimes caught using a rod and reel, spearfishing is the most efficient way to remove this species.

How do you get rid of them?

Because lionfish are lazy eaters, they aren’t easily caught with a rod and reel. This means that divers have to spearfish them. Luckily, because they are lazy and don’t associate divers as a predator, they usually don’t swim far away as divers are spearing them. However, catching lionfish is a laborious process. Unfortunately, this, along with their high reproductive rates, make getting rid of lionfish a challenge.

Can you eat lionfish?

YES! Lionfish are venomous, NOT poisonous. This means that as long as you avoid being poked by the spines, lionfish are safe to handle and consume. Removing the spines can reduce your chances, but even if you do get poked, the application of heat often helps reduce the pain. Lionfish are a white flaky fish and can be cooked (or not cooked) any way you like! Ceviche, sushi, blackened, fried… The options are limitless. Ask for lionfish next time you dine in Destin-Fort Walton Beach! The best time to try lionfish is during ECO Restaurant Week leading up to the competition!

Restaurant Week

Learn more about the Emerald Coast Open Restaurant Week 2024!

Explore

Learn More

To learn more about the tournament and get involved, whether you’re a sponsor, participant, or volunteer, check out the Emerald Coast Open website.

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