2017 Scallop Season has Arrived!
The Florida Bay Scallop is a bivalve mollusk that lives in seagrass beds in relatively shallow water, usually 4 to 10 feet deep. At one time scallops were reported from as far east as West Palm Beach and as far west as Pensacola. Today, populations can only be found in selected locations along Florida’s west coast—principally St. Joseph Bay, the Steinhatchee area of the Big Bend, and the areas near the Crystal and Homosassa rivers with expansive seagrass beds. Healthy seagrass meadows are essential for maintaining scallop populations, so remember to practice responsible boating and avoid damaging the seagrass beds. Scallops live about one year before either dying off naturally or being eaten by humans, crabs, octopuses, or a variety of shell-crushing fish. They spawn primarily in the fall. After about a two-week period as plankton, larvae develop a small shell and settle onto seagrass blades. They continue to grow while attached to the grass blades by a mass of silk-like filaments called a byssus. They later fall from the grass blades and become free swimmers. Unlike oysters and clams, scallops are active swimmers. They click their shells together, forcing expelled water to propel them rapidly. Scallops are simultaneous hermaphrodites, able to spawn as either males or females, and are very fertile. A single scallop can produce more than one million eggs per spawn.
Scallop Season starts this weekend July 1st through September 24. Areas included are all state waters from the westernmost point of St. Vincent Island in Franklin County to Rock Island near the mouth of the Fenholloway River in Taylor County and from the Suwannee River Alligator Pass Daybeacon 4 in Levy County to the Hernando-Pasco county line.
The most popular destinations for recreational scallopers are Steinhatchee, Crystal River and Homosassa. This is because the Florida bay scallop, a bivalve mollusk, grows and lives in the shallow (4 to 10 feet deep) seagrass beds that are common to these areas.
SCALLOPING FLORIDA’S ADVENTURE COAST
Hernando County is the southern extent of healthy, harvestable bay scallop populations. Expansive seagrass beds, an estimated 250,000 acres, flourish in the coastal waters along this county providing a habitat in which the scallops thrive. These plentiful seagrass beds, coupled with clear waters and shallow depths, make Hernando County an ideal place to snorkel for scallops during the open season. Populations of bay scallops, once abundant throughout Florida waters, have fluctuated throughout the years and their range has decreased substantially. To help monitor their populations and maintain a sustainable breeding population, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) annually reviews the status of the scallop stock in state waters of the eastern Gulf of Mexico. The boost in scallop populations may be partly a result of a restoration program started by researchers at the University of South Florida (USF), Florida Sea Grant, and FWC through its Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI) testing the feasibility of aquaculture. Because scallops are “synchronized spawners” — when one spawns, they all do — hatchery-reared scallops were placed in cages on bay bottoms where healthy populations previously existed. This approach appeared to increase the chance of successfully reproducing over natural scallops that are sparsely distributed. Recent studies by the University of Florida, USF, Mote Marine Laboratory and FWRI, have shown that adult populations may quickly rebound in some Southwest Florida locations when late-stage hatcheryreared larvae are introduced. Future genetic studies are expected to evaluate the long-term effectiveness of using larvae to increase scallop populations.
COLLECTING, CARE, and HANDELING
Scallops may be spotted on or near the bottom of seagrass beds, usually lying on their ventral shells. Often, they are easiest to find in borderline areas where the sand/mud bottom meets the edge of the grasses. Scallops have many neon-blue eyes and may try to swim away when they see you, but they do not swim fast or far. Keep collected scallops in a mesh bag, rather than in a pocket or in your swimsuit. They can pinch! Though not required, collecting scallops that are at least 1.5 to two inches in size is seen as a best scalloping practice because the scallops are large enough to produce enough meat to make cleaning worthwhile. This also gives small summer scallops more time to grow and spawn in the fall.
When brought to the boat, scallops should be immediately placed on ice in a cooler for the trip to shore unless you decide to clean the scallops while on the water. Scallops are quite sensitive to temperature and will quickly die if they are not kept cold. Even if kept cold, scallops will usually die shortly after being placed on ice, especially if fresh water gets into their shells. Placing them on ice, however, makes them easier to open, because the muscle holding the shells together relaxes. A scallop, clam or oyster knife, or even a teaspoon, can be used to open the shells and cut the white muscle free, discarding the shells and unwanted soft parts. Although most Floridians only eat the white scallop muscle, in many other parts of the world the entire animal is eaten. If you do plan to eat the entire scallop, it should be cooked thoroughly because many open harvest areas for scallops are not classified for harvest of other shellfish species.
In Florida, commercial harvest of bay scallops is banned. In general, recreational scallopers between the ages of 16 and 65 must have a current Florida saltwater fishing license to collect scallops. There are some exceptions, listed in the FWC “Florida Saltwater Recreational Fishing Regulations,” which is available in bait shops, FWC offices, or on the FWC website (http:// myfwc.com). All non-residents 16 and over are required to buy a license unless they are fishing (scalloping) from a for-hire vessel (guide, charter, party boat) that has a valid vessel license. The season runs from approximately late June through late September. (Always consult the FWC website for dates of current season.) Harvesting is allowed from the west bank of the Mexico Beach Canal (in Bay County) to the Pasco-Hernando county line (near Aripeka). The bag limit is 2 gallons of whole scallops (in the shell), or 1 pint of scallop meat per person per day. In addition, no more than 10 gallons of whole scallops or 1/2 gallon of scallop meat may be possessed aboard any vessel at any time. You may harvest scallops only by hand or with a landing or dip net. Scallopers must remain in the legal scalloping area while in possession of scallops on the water, including the point where they return to land.
• Swim mask • Swim fins • Snorkel • Small mesh bag • Divers-down flag (required by law) — Displayed on vessel, must be at least 20 inches by 24 inches with a stiffener to keep the flag unfurled. Should only be displayed while snorkelers are in the water; display above the vessel’s highest point. — Tethered to diver, must be at least 12 inches by 12 inches; mandatory when using a mask and snorkel from the beach unless it is a marked swimming area. — You must make reasonable efforts to stay within 300 feet of a divers-down flag on open waters and within 100 feet of a flag within rivers, inlets, or navigation channels. • Boat — Usually required to get to the best scalloping areas. In shallow water, it is possible to wade for scallops in the seagrass, or to collect them from a shallow-draft boat using a dip net or landing net, but these methods are not very productive. Most scallopers go by boat into water 4 to 10 feet deep where they anchor, put up their dive flag, and snorkel over the beds, collecting the scallops by hand.
Bay Scallop Harvest Zones:
Bay scallops may only be harvested in state waters from the following zones:
Zone 1 (Gulf County, including St. Joseph Bay): Includes all state waters from the west bank of the Mexico Beach Canal in Bay County through the western-most point of St. Vincent Island in Franklin County.
Zone 2 (Fenholloway River to Suwannee River, including a portion of Taylor County and all of Dixie County. This includes the communities of Dekle Beach, Keaton Beach and Steinhatchee.): Includes all state waters south and east of Rock Island, near the mouth of the Fenholloway River in Taylor County (Northern Boundary Map) through and north of the Suwannee River Alligator Pass Daybeacon 4 in Levy County (Southern Boundary Map).
Zone 3 (all other areas open to the harvest of bay scallops): Includes all state waters from the westernmost point of St. Vincent Island in Franklin County to Rock Island near the mouth of the Fenholloway River in Taylor County and from the Suwannee River Alligator Pass Daybeacon 4 in Levy County to the Hernando-Pasco county line.
It is illegal to possess bay scallops on waters outside open harvest areas or during the closed season. It is also illegal to land scallops outside open harvest areas. For example, it would be legal to take scallops from waters off the Hernando County coast, but it would be illegal to dock your boat in Pasco County with the scallop catch onboard. It would also be illegal to transport scallops harvested in zone 2 across zone 3 waters prior to the July 1 zone 3 season opening.
- Legal Gear: Harvest permitted only by hand or by using a landing or dip net
Commercial harvest prohibited.
Recreational harvesters need a Florida saltwater fishing license to harvest bay scallops unless they are 1. exempt from needing a license or 2. have a no-cost shoreline fishing license and are wading from shore to collect scallops (i.e. feet do not leave bottom to swim, snorkel, or SCUBA and harvesters do not use a vessel to reach or return from the harvest location).
What is a scallop? I have never heard of them in Florida.
Bay scallops are bivalve molluscs that occur on Florida’s west coast, in localized populations from Florida Bay, in Monroe and Dade counties, to St. Andrew Bay near Panama City. They are bottom dwellers living in 4-8 feet of water. They used to be harvested and sold commercially; now, only recreational anglers can take them during harvest season.
Where and how are scallops fished?
Bay scallops (Argopecten irradians) can be fished in state waters from the Pasco-Hernando county line to the Mexico Beach Canal in Bay County from July 1 to Sept. 24 each year. The bag limit is two gallons of unshucked animals per person per day or one pint of meat per person per day. Recreational harvesters should review current fishing license requirements before collecting bay scallops. To view current state of Florida regulations on harvesting bay scallops, view the article on bay scallop regulations.
Why can’t I eat shellfish during a red tide?
“Shellfish” is a generic term used to describe a large number of marine animals-not all of which are affected the same way by red tide. Shellfish, like the bivalve molluscs including mussels, clams, and oysters, should not be eaten if they have been removed from waters containing red tide. As filter feeders, these animals remove large amounts of red tide cells from the water and concentrate the toxin-producing algae in their gut. Other shellfish seafood, such as crabs, shrimp, and lobster, can be eaten because they do not filter-feed and will not retain the toxin. Scallops can be eaten if only the scallop’s muscle is eaten, as is normally the case. Scallop stew, which uses the whole animal, should not be eaten.