Recreational bay scallop season begins this weekend on June 25th, 2016! Thousands of residents and visitors will flock to the coastal areas of Florida between the Pasco-Hernando County line and Mexico Beach Canal to seek out their limit of scallops. Recreational boating in the Nature Coast reaches peak levels during scallop season, so expect congestion at boat ramps.
Preparing for Scalloping
Whether you are trying out scalloping for the first time or a veteran scalloper with plenty of secret honey holes, a quick check of the following will help ensure you have a fun and safe scalloping experience.
Personal Equipment: You will need snorkel gear (mask, snorkel, fins, small mesh bag) or a dip net to harvest scallops.
License: Anyone harvesting scallops needs a current Florida recreational saltwater fishing licence. A saltwater fishing licence can be obtained online from the FWC.
Map: Head over to https://www.flseagrant.org/fisheries/scalloping/ to request or download a copy of the FL Sea Grant recreational scalloping brochures, including maps, delicious recipes, and tons of great information about recreational scalloping in Florida. Available for Citrus, Taylor, and Hernando Counties.
Safety Equipment: Be sure to pack your diver’s down flag and familiarize yourself with the rules for displaying the flag. Also, check your standard boating safety equipment to be sure you have enough life jackets for every person aboard, a sound-producing device such as a whistle or air horn, and a supply of visual distress signals in good condition (not wet or expired).
What’s New in 2016?
FWC Bay Scallop Abundance Report: Every year, researchers with the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI) study bay scallop populations along the Gulf coast of Florida. The data they collect helps the FWC make management decisions such as where scallops can be harvested each year. The 2016 abundance survey indicates that bay scallops are relatively plentiful in areas around Steinhatchee, Homosassa, and St. Marks. However, study results indicated very low numbers of scallops in the St. Joseph Bay area (see below for more).
St. Joseph Bay Conservation Measures: In 2016, bay scallop season in St. Joseph Bay will not open with the rest of the harvest areas. Instead, the season will open late and close early (August 22 – September 5, 2016) and the bag limit will be reduced to 40 scallops per person or 200 per vessel (whichever is less). FWRI research on scallop populations in this area shows scallop numbers are very low, likely because of a red tide event last year. The FWC worked with the community in a series of public meetings to develop the 2016 conservation measures. Please see the press release for more.
Scallop Survey: FWRI researchers are asking for your help to gather data about recreational scallop harvest. Help FWC’s scallop researchers by completing an online survey at http://svy.mk/bayscallops. Harvesters can indicate where they harvest scallops, how many they collect and how long it takes to harvest them. You can email BayScallops@MyFWC.com to ask questions or send additional information.
Responsible Boating Reminders
Be Seagrass Safe: Be aware of seagrasses while boating in shallow areas! Many species, including bay scallops, depend on seagrasses and damage from propellers and boat anchors (called seagrass scarring) reduces habitat quality and resilience of seagrasses over the long-term. Please visit the Be Seagrass Safe website for more information.
Operation Dry Water: A national weekend (June 24th-26th) of heightened enforcement of impaired boater laws. The aim is to increase awareness about the dangers of boating under the influence and reduce alcohol-related incidents. For more see: http://myfwc.com/boating/operation-dry-water/.
Links and Resources
Florida Sea Grant Scalloping: https://www.flseagrant.org/fisheries/scalloping/
FWRI Bay Scallops: http://myfwc.com/research/saltwater/mollusc/bay-scallops/
FWC Bay Scallop Fishing Regulations: http://myfwc.com/fishing/saltwater/recreational/bay-scallops/
UF/IFAS Florida Food Fare – Scallop Recipes: http://sarasota.ifas.ufl.edu/FCS/FlaFoodFare/Scallops.pdf
Operation Dry Water: http://myfwc.com/boating/operation-dry-water/
Be Seagrass Safe: http://bit.ly/seagrass_safe
Photos courtesy of UF/IFAS (Tyler Jones) and Florida Sea Grant