St. Pete Beach and Key Largo Hosting September Lionfish Derbies

September 3, 2015 at 1:50 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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11894565_10153016510035966_3704420398588416464_oOpportunities to curb Florida’s burgeoning populations of invasive lionfish (and learn more about our coral reef ecosystem) will be available in St. Pete Beach and Key Largo in September.  And all ocean enthusiasts– divers or not– are invited to both events.

Guy Harvey Outpost,  a TradeWinds Beach Resort on St. Pete Beach, will co-host a Lionfish Safari Sept. 12-13, along with Reef Monitoring, Inc. and the Fishing Rights Alliance. Then from Sept. 24-27, the Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) will conduct REEF Fest 2015 in Key Largo– a lionfish and ocean education event.

At the Lionfish Safari, both divers and anglers will set out to capture as many of the exotic predators from the Indo-Pacific as possible on Sept. 12.  Contestants will keep their catch on ice overnight, then present it at weigh-in ceremonies Sept. 13 at the Outpost for chances of winning cash prizes and the certainty of knowing they did something to benefit the Gulf coast marine environment.  Everyone will get to eat some of the bounty, and there will be a photo contest, raffle, and prize give-aways.  Tournament entry fee is $35 per person.

It’s just as (or more) important for anglers to participate in the Safari as for scuba divers and snorkelers.  A recent study by scientists at Nova Southeastern University suggests that local, intermittent diving derbies barely make a dent in reducing overall lionfish numbers and containing their spread.  That’s because participants tend to zero in on the largest lionfish while smaller fish escape and spread their larvae to far-away downstream locations. Nova’s Dr. Matthew Johnston says what’s needed is consistent removal of all sizes of the exotics wherever they live, deep or shallow.  Anglers are urged to fish for them with hook-and-line, especially in waters too deep for divers to safely explore.

Captain Tim Kehoe, Senior Outfitter at TradeWinds, recently harvested what might have been a world-record lionfish while surf-fishing near the resort.  Casting a live scaled sardine (pilchard) in knee-deep water, Kehoe landed a fat 20-inch specimen, but didn’t weigh it or turn it over to the International Game Fish Association for certification.  Still, that’s one less voracious predator plundering Southwest Florida’s native fish populations.  If you would like to get involved, go to www.GuysLionfishSafari.com or call 727-259-7404.

Now, if you are not an experienced lionfish hunter and would like to learn more, REEF Fest in Key Largo is the place for you.  REEF staff members will instruct you on locating them and safely avoiding their venomous spines, and will escort you on a lionfish hunt.  This is no derby; it’s for instructional purposes only.  But REEF Fest is much more than a lionfish expo.  The event features seminars on fish identification and behavior; coral restoration; reef ecology and many other topics.  Scuba celebrities such as Neal Watson, Spencer Slate, and Marty Snyderman will conduct guided dives to local reefs and wrecks.  Evening social events with food and music will cap each day.  Many events are free, but pre-registration is required.  Visit www.reef.org/REEFFest2015.

Use Guy Harvey Outpost’s New Fishing App for a Chance to Win a Guy Harvey Florida Fishing License

September 1, 2015 at 8:53 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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FLFishingLicenseBe sure to set a reminder on your phone (or circle your calendar) for Sept. 5.  On that Saturday, you do not need to buy a fishing license in order to wet a line in any saltwater body in Florida.  You can fish from shore, on a boat, on a pier or a jetty in the ocean, Gulf, bays and canals license-free for that one day.

Here are several good reasons to take advantage:  you can teach a kid to fish or introduce a non-angling friend to the sport at no extra cost, or –best of all– you have a chance to win prizes, courtesy of Guy Harvey Outpost Resorts.

Anyone who logs a catch of ANY fish on the Guy Harvey iGHOFISH app –(a free download on Iphone and Google Play)–will be automatically entered in a sweepstakes to win a one-year I DO! Guy Harvey saltwater/freshwater fishing/hunting combo license and a $50 Guy Harvey merchandise gift card.  Also in this special, one-day tournament, your catch information will be instantly shared with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission through the IAngler program, which helps fisheries managers and scientists conserve and protect Florida’s saltwater fish stocks.

The license-free day applies to all saltwater recreational species such as crabs, lobsters, and scallops.  But all bag and size limits and seasons still apply, so make sure you check out the regulations before harvesting.

If you don’t have a license and want to fish the rest of the year, you can purchase one online at myfwc.com/license/ or at any county tax collector’s office and some retail outlets.

Hunting Gators in the Heart of Florida!

August 31, 2015 at 7:35 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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[Okeechobee, FL–]  Cows bellow, a limpkin screams and distant lightning intermittently illuminates the nighttime sky as captain Bobby Stafford idles his aluminum skiff north on the Kissimmee River.  Oblivious to the eerie atmosphere,  Stafford and passengers Roger McCulloch and Butch Butler eagerly scan the tannic surface with binoculars and headlamps trying to catch a pair of ruby-red lights in their sights.

Sweeping the river ahead, bank to bank, Stafford suddenly spots what they’re looking for.

“There’s a big one!” he whispers excitedly to his companions.  “My God, he’s a stud.  He’s coming out of that creek we were in.”

The alligator’s red eyes, captured in the beam, are spaced a good distance apart not unlike the running lights on a small boat — indicating he’s probably ten feet or better.

This is just what McCulloch, a highway construction foreman from Ohio, has travelled so far to capture.  An accomplished hunter, McCulloch has bagged literally dozens of gators with Stafford as his guide over the past ten years or so during Florida’s annual statewide public gator hunt that runs from Aug. 15 through Nov. 1. McCulloch has  mounted several of these trophies, but his supply of gator meat has run out.  Scoring this target will fill his freezer.

Then Stafford says something that, to the uninitiated, might sound really weird.

“Maybe we ought to just drop a chicken,” he says to the other men, who nod in agreement as if this is the most normal conversation in the world to be having on a desolate stretch of river in the middle of the night.

***********************

Unlike the depictions of gator hunting on the popular “Swamp People” television show, hunters chosen by lottery for Florida’s annual reptile wrangle are not allowed to shoot gators with guns or snag them in the throat with baited treble hooks.  Only certain approved methods are permitted to harvest the quota of two gators per person.  One of them involves fishing with chickens, minus a hook.

Stafford retrieves a whole, raw, store-bought chicken from a five-gallon bucket with a length of coated cable attached to it.  He fastens the end of the cable to a snap swivel tied to 200-pound-test braided line on his stout conventional fishing outfit.  Inside the chicken, he has sewn a wooden dowel– perfectly legal–that will hold the gator’s jaws open if and when it devours the bait.

Stafford drops the chicken/bait in the water, puts the fishing reel in free-spool and motors slowly upriver until the boat is about 100 yards from the floating bait.  He directs McCulloch to drop anchor and then shuts off the outboard.

“You just have to have patience and let ’em come to you,” Stafford says.

The men wait and wait.  Nothing happens.  Finally, Stafford points the headlamp at the bait and spots the ‘stud’ gator far past it downriver.  No other targets can be seen lurking nearby.

Stafford reels in the bait and the group decides to go looking for more prospects.  They light up a small one in the middle of the river that freezes in the beam, but they agree to pass it up.  Not long afterward, they spot a five-footer lurking in some reeds on the bank that has someone else’s cable attached to it.  They keep looking.

Several other small boats pass by during the night believed to be those of fellow hunters.  No whoops and hollers of victory are heard, and only a few gators appear in their sights.

“Too many small ones.  Too much boat traffic for this stretch of river,” Stafford complains.  Reluctantly, he turns the skiff toward the boat ramp, done for the night.  He and McCulloch and Butler make plans to resume the hunt around 5:30 in the morning.

“If we can get a morning where there’s not a lot of people, then we’ll get it done,” he declares.

Pro Anglers Expecting a Bounty of Big Fish for FLW Event at Lake O!

August 18, 2015 at 4:11 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Steve Daniel - Bass FishDespite the searing August heat, the largemouth bass fishing in Lake Okeechobee hasn’t slowed down a bit.  At a recent one-day local club tournament, it took a five-bass limit of 31 pounds to win.

“This is August.  They can’t do this anywhere else in the country,” declared veteran Lake O guide and former pro tour champion Steve Daniel.  “The lake has been awesome all summer long.”

Some 300 anglers in the pro- and co-angler categories of the FLW Wal-Mart BFL Gator Division will be able see for themselves in the Aug. 29-30 ‘super tournament’ at Okeechobee’s Scott Driver Park.  It’s the fifth and final event of the 2015 Gator Division–the largest of the BFL’s 24 divisions–where the top pro will take home $9,000 and $4,500 will go to the top co-angler.

Daniel predicts the winning two-day weight could be 45 pounds.

With water levels in the Big O hovering around 12 feet and a full moon on Aug. 29, Daniel believes the big fish will go for the spawning bluegill and shellcracker bedding on the edges of grass lines first thing in the morning. Anglers using large Senkos and swim baits in bluegill hues of green and orange will be successful, he says.  As the sun rises, bass are likely to head for deeper water, such as the hydrilla beds of Harney Pond where slow-moving chatterbaits and spinnerbaits should do the trick.

FLW Tour pro Mike Surman says it’s key to knock out a couple big fish of six pounds or larger right out of the gate.

“If you find the right place early in the morning, you can catch 20 fish in the first half-hour,” Surman said.  “If you catch two good ones early and one more later in the day, you’ve got a good chance to win.”

Surman, who has won major tournaments on Lake Okeechobee in the past, said he plans to start the day with a YoZuri Nor-Z– a large, jointed minnow-shaped bait with a propeller in the back– then switch to a Gambler Big EZ minnow imitation or Gambler jig with a MegaDaddy trailer later in the day.  He believes the tournament could be won anywhere on the lake –even ten minutes’ ride from the boat ramp.  Daniel believes anglers can also catch big fish in the Kissimmee River and adjacent canals.

At the last Gator Division tournament held on the Big O in April, Joshua Morfis weighed a limit of 34 pounds, 14 ounces in a single day to earn more than $6,300.  Co-angler Hunter Abowd had the largest fish — an 11-pound, 10-ounce monster.

Guy Harvey Outpost Offering Front Row Seat to Florida Keys Coral Spawning

August 17, 2015 at 12:33 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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NOAAIt looks like a brilliant fireworks display, except it’s underwater.  In the middle of the night several days after the August 29 full moon, boulder corals all along the Florida Keys reef tract get together to do the wild thing.  And you are invited to watch.

These simultaneous acts of coral sex make for spectacular viewing.  Millions of tiny white bb’s erupt from the polyps of large mounds of coral, scattering bundles of eggs and sperm into the water.  Many are immediately consumed by marauding schools of shiny silver pilchards– hence the fireworks effect. And the swarming pilchards attract larger predators such as barracuda and tarpon to the fray. The lucky coral gametes that manage to survive the fish fest fertilize one another to create larvae which eventually settle to the bottom to form new coral reefs.

For a front-row seat on the nights of Sept. 3 and 4, make a reservation with Captain Slate’s Scuba Adventures Dive Center in Tavernier (305-451-3020).  The crew will escort you to one of several reefs about 25 feet deep where you have the greatest chance of watching coral reproduce.

However, it’s never a sure thing where Mother Nature is involved; the annual spawning is triggered by various cues that are not well understood such as lunar cycle, water temperature and tides.  But the good news is that scientists correctly forecast that staghorn coral would spawn the first week of August– and they did on Aug. 5 in the Coral Restoration Foundation’s nursery off the Upper Keys.  Scientists and dive operators are hopeful that the larger mountainous species such as brain and star corals — which put on a much better show than the staghorn–should do the deed as predicted just before Labor Day Weekend.

If you don’t want to stay up for the late-night coral viewing party, you can hunt lobsters in daytime from one of Captain Slate’s boats.  Florida’s regular lobster harvest season, which opened Aug. 6 and runs through March 31, allows divers and snorkelers to take six per person per day.  Slate’s crews will take you to the patch reefs that hold the big ones.  You need a Florida saltwater fishing license with a lobster endorsement which can be purchased online at MyFWC.com or at county tax collectors’ offices and some retail outlets.

Get busy; spots are filling quickly. For more information, contact GHO Reservations at 800.513.5257, or sales@guyharveyoutpost.com.

Organizers Not Giving Up on Rapa Nui Dive Site

August 11, 2015 at 4:32 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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11242681_10152750655661710_105051262564212438_oThe upside down wreckage of the Rapa Nui Reef 67 feet deep off the Deerfield Beach Pier looks like the dark basement of a house crushed by an earthquake.  But maybe not for long.

Plans are reportedly in the works to cut openings for divers to access the hull of the 150-foot-long barge that crushed 14 Easter Island-like statues affixed to it during the problem-plagued June sinking.  Broward County recently deployed 500 tons of limestone boulders dubbed ‘Mount Deerfield’ just north of the site. And philanthropist Margaret Blume of Boca Raton and artist Dennis MacDonald of Pompano Beach are considering placing more statues, called moai, in a sculpture garden in the sand around the barge.

Right now, Rapa Nui– the Polynesian name for Easter Island–isn’t much of a dive.   Swimming beneath the barge is dangerous because it’s only being held up off the bottom by the brittle remains of the statues and their concrete base.  One strong storm, and the rusty hulk will plop into the sand.

But this project was not a complete failure.  The goal of creating new marine habitat is already happening. Algae coats the overturned hull, attracting bait fish and the grunts and gray snapper that eat them.  A reliable observer reported two Goliath grouper swimming around the wreckage.  And when I dived it with Jeff Torode, operator of South Florida Diving Headquarters, a feisty triggerfish– backed by a posse of its buddies– attacked his GoPro as he shot video.

With the planned enhancements, Rapa Nui could become as enjoyable for divers to visit as it is now for fish.  Visitors could easily explore the underwater artwork and Mount Deerfield in a single drift dive. And there are other scenic reefs –both coral and manmade– in the immediate vicinity that warrant making a day of it.

“I would like to improve it as a dive site,” Blume, who put up $500,000 for the June deployment, said. “I really hope we will do something wonderful even on a small scale.  You can’t give up too easily.”

Guy Harvey Outpost Visits Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute Land-Ocean Observatory

August 5, 2015 at 1:16 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

HBOIA group of marine scientists sits before a computer screen in an air-conditioned command center in Fort Pierce, watching intently as a robot plucks a sea sponge from deep on the ocean floor that just might hold the key to combating diseases such as cancer and Alzheimer’s.

Elsewhere on the same FAU/Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute campus, two technicians are preparing a special ambulance to rescue a bottlenose dolphin snared in an illegal fishing net. And out on the adjacent Indian River Lagoon, a university official is demonstrating for the local news media the latest additions to the world’s largest interactive land-ocean observatory monitoring water quality in the one of the nation’s richest estuaries.

And the expansive reach of Harbor Branch– which was established in 1971 and merged with Florida Atlantic University in 2007– doesn’t stop there.

The institute’s engineers develop the technology that enable its research scientists such as Brian Lapointe and Stephanie Farrington to figure out why coral reefs are declining so rapidly throughout the Caribbean and Florida and why thick carpets of maize-colored sargassum weed recently have clogged local beaches.

On the outskirts of the campus working in small Quonset huts, aquaculture scientists come up with techniques for growing food fish such as cobia and pompano and ornamentals such as clownfish in captivity to help end overfishing for these commercially-important species.

Although Harbor Branch’s focus is “Ocean Science for a Better World”, its researchers, professors and students pursue holistic, ecosystem-based courses of study encompassing the environment some 45 miles inland to the fresh waters of Lake Okeechobee, the Kissimmee River and beyond.

Adhering to the adage that ‘everything flows downstream’, scientists look at the connectivity between land and ocean, freshwater and salt, seeking ways to keep the entire ecosystem in balance.  For example, if too much fresh water is discharged from Lake Okeechobee east to the St. Lucie Estuary or west through the Caloosahatchee River to the Gulf of Mexico, sea grasses, shellfish, food fish, dolphins and manatees suffer.  The land-ocean observatory network rolled out before the reporters and television cameras recently will enable resource managers to address those issues in real time.

Harbor Branch doesn’t close itself off to the local community.  Residents and visitors can stop by the Ocean Discovery Center open five days a week and they may attend free weekly ocean science lectures conducted from January through April.

Whether you’re a bass aficionado battling lunkers in the Big O or a salt chaser bagging kingfish for the grill off Fort Pierce, you both have a lot in common.  Check out http://www.fau.edu/hboi.

Guy Harvey Outpost Launches Exclusive Luxury Charter in Panama

August 3, 2015 at 8:40 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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BillShedd (2)Most accomplished big game anglers agree the best place on the planet to chase and catch blue and black marlins in August and September is the Pacific Ocean, from the Perlas Islands just off Panama City, Panama, south to the Zane Grey Reef at Pinas Bay.

To put anglers in the right spot at the right time, Guy Harvey Outpost Resorts has added Panama’s most exclusive mothership fishing operation, Panama Yacht and Fishing Charters (PYFC) to its system of unique fishing lodges. Based at Flamenco Marina in Panama City, the four-boat fleet is operated by Hennie Marais, considered one of most respected sport fishing outfitters and lodge operators in Central America.

Guy Harvey Outpost co-founders Guy Harvey and Bill Shedd, both trustees of the prestigious International Game Fish Association (IGFA) are no strangers to Panama big game sportfishing. Having just returned from a week long mothership expedition, Shedd, also the owner of tackle manufacturing giant AFTCO, comments, “this Outpost is the ultimate fishing experience, offering the freedom to fish where, when and how you and your friends wish. It’s no excuses fishing by day and luxury relaxation by night.”

Anglers, according to Marais, will enjoy a customized fishing experience like no other in Central America. Parties up to 12 will eat and sleep in the air-conditioned comfort of a 98-foot luxury Knight & Carver yacht, then head out to the billfish grounds aboard a 66-foot Buddy Davis sportfisher or a 37-foot Strike—or both. Rounding out the fleet is an 18 ft. Mitzi flats skiff, ideal for fishing the many mangrove shorelines throughout Panama.

Rising Marlin

“You go out at 6:00 to 6:30 in the morning. You fish for live bait. When you get to the bait grounds, it’s just acres of bonitos and skipjacks,” Marais said. “Often before you get all your live baits out, you have a black marlin. And you’re not getting beat up by the sea conditions. You fish till you’re out of live bait, then troll lures or dead baits for sailfish and blue marlin. There’s a good opportunity for a grand slam.”

For the non-anglers who want to explore remote island jungles or those who prefer to fish close to shore for roosterfish or Cubera snapper, there’s the Mitzi skiff, kayaks, personal watercraft, stand-up paddleboards and a fully-equipped scuba diving center.

Panama Dolphin

“The big game fishing off Panama is legendary, but the entire country is one big adventure,” comments Guy Harvey, Outpost Chairman Mark Ellert.  “This Outpost delivers not just fishing stories, but memories of a unique adventure that will last a lifetime.”

In January and February in the Las Perlas and Pinas waters are prime for black marlin, tuna, dorado (mahi), wahoo and roosterfish. April through June usually find the mothership plying the Pacific waters around the remote Isla de Coiba, a World Heritage Site in the Gulf of Chiriqui where yellowfin tuna are abundant.  Other options throughout the year are the Bocas Del Toro and  Gulf of San Blas regions in Panama’s Caribbean Sea for family snorkeling and inshore and reef fishing.

Lobster – It’s What’s for Dinner!

August 3, 2015 at 1:47 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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P1010069Neither Dan Knorr nor Billy Catoggio hails from Cuba, but you’d swear they do after tasting their Lobster Medianoche sandwich. Substituting fresh-caught Florida spiny lobster for the midnight sandwich staple of pulled pork, and retaining the pickles, mayo and pork shavings encased in a sweet roll with Cuban mustard and mojito sauces on the side, the two amateur chefs topped the field in the recent “Bug Fest” lobster recipe contest in Lauderdale-By-The-Sea.

The event is among the highlights of the town’s fourth annual festival celebrating Florida’s two-day lobster mini-season held in late July.   Hundreds gathered at a beach pavilion to watch hungrily as our panel of four judges tasted various crustacean creations and filled out our ballots.  Then the audience got to gobble free samples.  There was a creamy, mushroom-laden lobster Thermidor;  spicy coconut curry lobster;  lobster in lime-butter-basil sauce on a bed of pureed cauliflower; panko-crusted lobster with a brandy reduction and parmesan cheese; and even a lobster-tini– vodka infused with lobster stock and garnished with a crayfish.

All were delicious, but Knorr– maker of Reef Safe biodegradable sunscreen–and Catoggio–co-creator of ScubaNation TV–really nailed it with their Havana-inspired delicacy.  What fun eating and drinking other people’s culinary masterpieces!  Sign me up for next year.

But it is not too late to concoct your best lobster or seafood recipe for fame and prizes.  Guy Harvey Magazine is conducting a sustainable seafood recipe contest through Aug. 13, awarding marine-related swag for the top three and publishing them in the magazine. If you are looking for inspiration, check out the Lobster Tortellini crafted by Chef Andy from Islander Resort, a Guy Harvey Outpost in Islamorada.  Could be tough to beat, but give it a try.

It could mean the beginning of a rewarding new career that includes being berated on national television by Gordon Ramsay.

BugFest Underway; Lionfish Also on the Menu!

July 29, 2015 at 3:34 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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image1Post-dive lobster barbecues are going to be a lot more sumptuous than usual during this summer’s two-day, Florida-wide lobster mini-season July 29-30.  Extra lobsters will sizzle on the grill, accompanied by tasty fillets of exotic lionfish.  That’s because the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission is allowing divers to take an extra lobster over the bag limit each day for harvesting ten or more lionfish.  It’s a special incentive program to help control the burgeoning population of the exotic, peppermint-striped invaders from the Indo Pacific with venom-tipped fins.

Here are some tips to help you catch your limit of bugs while taking as many lionfish as you want:

— In the Atlantic, lionfish and lobsters are often found together in dark caverns and beneath coral ledges in depths ranging from 15 feet to more than 100 feet.  You’ll find plenty of lobsters in shallow water, but more lionfish in 60 feet or deeper because of local culling efforts at heavily-visited inshore reefs.  In the Gulf, artificial reefs hold lots of lionfish, but lobsters may be hit-or-miss.  Best times to harvest both are dusk and dawn.

— While spearing lionfish is legal, spearing lobster is not.  Use your tickler stick, or a lasso-like ‘bugger’, net and catch bag to take lobster.  The most efficient way to take lionfish is with a three-pronged pole spear. Nail the fish in the body, then pin it to the sand while you use kitchen shears or ‘sea snips’ to cut off the spines.  Most, but not all, are venomous, so go ahead and cut them all off for good measure.  Wear puncture-proof gloves.

–If you don’t want to take the time to cut off lionfish spines underwater, then bring a ZooKeeper catch bag.  Available at dive shops, it’s made of durable PVC and has a one-way chute that allows you to insert the speared lionfish, then pull out the spear.  Do not store an un-snipped lionfish in a mesh catch bag; even dead, the spines are venomous.

–If you do get stung, soak the affected area in hot but not scalding water for 30 to 90 minutes and seek medical attention.  No one has died of a lionfish sting, but pain and swelling can be severe.

–Check regulations for the area where you will be diving.  For example, some areas of the Keys prohibit spear fishing–even for lionfish unless you have a special permit.  Mini-season lobster bag limits in the Keys and Biscayne National Park are six per person per day; the limit is 12 elsewhere.  That means you can take seven or 13 if you produce proof you harvested ten or more lionfish.

–Looking for tasty lionfish recipes?  Check out “The Lionfish Cookbook” available at dive shops and at reef.org.

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