Winning the coveted title of Lionfish King once in 2017 wasn’t enough for Ken Ayers of Panama City, Florida. So to prove he was, without a doubt, the state’s top predator of this invasive species, he did it again for 2019! Ken bested 349 competitors in the state by killing a total of 1,194 lionfish; not quite as many as his 1,250 total in 2017, so perhaps this means the program is having the desired effect on reducing the numbers of these fish.
At 66 years old, Ken, an Air Force veteran, teamed up with Curt Waldron, 68, a Marine Corps veteran, and went about the work of harvesting lionfish. They found that the most fertile grounds were off the coast of Pensacola, ranging from 25 to 35 miles from the pass. Over the course of the summer, they took close to 30 trips out with Ken logging nearly 200 dives. Working together on Curt’s boat, “Old Crow, the two were like a well-disciplined lionfish killing force that couldn’t be stopped. Conditions that ranged from calm seas and extreme heat to five foot swells and all kinds of weather didn’t slow these guys down.
Dropping an anchor was just too time consuming, so “live-boat” diving was the challenge they undertook. Dropping a buoy, affectionately named “Wilson,” with an anchor line over a site provided a maker for the team. Ken would use the line for his descents and ascents, while Curt would do his best to keep tabs on Ken’s location by following his bubbles…no easy task! Once Ken found his way to the surface, the team maneuvered to get him safely on board. This required special attention and skill to avoid prop injury, hand up gear and fish, and finally get the diver back aboard the boat. Then it was off to the next dive site.
In the Commercial category, Josh Livingston, of Okaloosa County, became the champion for the second time as well. He took home these honors in 2017, so not to be outdone by Ken, he, too, did it again for 2019 by hauling in 3,192 pounds of lionfish.
If you have the chance, be sure to congratulate both Ken and Josh, our area’s two-time Lionfish Challenge champs. They both put in a lot of hard work against a stiff field of competition and have proven themselves to be top lionfish predators, and have made a significant impact on reducing the numbers of this invasive species.
For more information about the Lionfish Challenge and our local champs, see www.myfwc.com or call Amanda Nalley at (850) 404-6100 or email her at Amanda.Nalley@MyFWC.com.
~ Randy Cnota