TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — The 2023 Lionfish Challenge has ended, shattering previous competition records, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) announced Thursday.

The eighth edition of the highly anticipated challenge concluded on Oct. 1, and the FWC said the competition was fierce until the very last submission.

The Lionfish Challenge, a summer-long tournament that rewards divers for their lionfish harvests, saw an “unprecedented surge in participation” this year. According to the FWC, an astounding 281 participants submitted the invasive species, which is nearly double the program’s highest participation numbers on record.

During the four-month tournament, divers embarked on 917 trips, removing a staggering 30,494 lionfish from Florida state waters – nearly 5,000 more than last year.

Lionfish are invasive and have the potential to pose negative impacts on native wildlife and habitats in the Sunshine State, according to the FWC. The state agency encourages drivers, anglers, and commercial harvesters to remove lionfish from Florida waterways to limit negative impacts on marine life and ecosystems.

“I would like to extend my sincere gratitude to every individual who participated in the Lionfish Challenge, and a special congratulatory thank you to our 2023 Lionfish King and Commercial Champion,” FWC Commission Chairman Rodney Barreto said in a statement. “Our Lionfish Challenge participants have become environmental heroes, defending our marine ecosystems against invasive lionfish and exemplifying the spirit of conservation.” 

The winners of the 2023 Lionfish Challenge are as followed:

  • Lionfish King: Baye Beauford (1,514 lionfish)
  • Second place recreational division: Dale Wolber (1,145 lionfish)
  • Third place recreational division: David Connerth (773 lionfish)
  • Commercial Champion: Jerry Butler (1,208 pounds of lionfish)
  • Second place commercial division: David Garrett (744 pounds of lionfish)
  • Third place commercial division: Alex Fogg (516 pounds of lionfish)
  • Military prize: Eric Larson (591 pounds of lionfish)
Photo courtesy of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

“The Lionfish Challenge is a great way to get people outdoors and involved in conservation by removing invasive lionfish. ” FWC Executive Director Roger Young said. “Thank you to all 2023 participants for removing over 30,000 invasive lionfish from Florida’s waters. Your efforts are making a difference in conserving our amazing marine resources.”