Regulations and harvest areas have been set for the Florida Gulf Coast’s June 27 to Sept. 24 bay scallop season.
Two gallons of whole bay scallops in their shell, or one pint of bay scallop meat per person is permitted for harvesting throughout the Gulf Coast’s four open harvest zones: St. Joseph Bay, St. Marks, Steinhatchee, and Homosassa. Collectively, these four harvest zones connect and run up from the Pasco-Hernando County line, just north of Tampa, to the west bank of the Mexico Beach Canal, up in the Panhandle.
All harvesters need a Florida saltwater fishing license to harvest bay scallops, even when scalloping from shore. Commercial harvesting of any kind is prohibited, as is possessing bay scallops on waters outside the open harvest areas.
There’s no size limit for bay scallops either. Landing or dip nets are permitted. And hand-harvesting is encouraged.
How harvesting zones were selected
Each summer, biologists assess bay scallop populations along the Gulf coast of Florida as part of their annual abundance survey. What they find plays a key role in determining where it’s OK for the public to go scalloping each year. Data for the survey usually starts in June and finishes up in July, as scientists look for long-term trends related to the abundance of scallops. Their findings are presented to the Division of Marine Fisheries Management.
Scientists classify bay scallop abundance into categories based on the average number of scallops per square meter, or 1.2 square yards.
The worst areas are described as “collapsed population” areas and average between 0 and 0.01 scallops per square meter.
One notch healthier are the “vulnerable populations,” where an average of 0.01 to 0.1 scallops reside per square meter of Gulf floor.
A “stable population” averages between 0.1 and 1 scallop per square meter. Ideally, these are the areas we want to harvest from, though “vulnerable populations” are occasionally opened up for harvesting as well.
Closed harvest areas
St. Andrew Bay, up in the Panhandle, Anclote, in Pasco and Pinellas counties, Tampa Bay — you know where that is — and Pine Island Sound, down in Lee County, were all areas of study for Florida’s annual abundance survey, but their scallop populations were deemed “collapsed” and too minute to harvest.
There’s been an increase in scallop numbers in these closed harvest areas over the past 10 years, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) — which they attribute to prohibited harvesting and restoration efforts — but the overall scallop populations in these areas continues to suffer frequent collapses.
These unstable populations are problematic, as they take longer to recover from a collapse and have reduced reproductive success. The FWC attributes the bay scallop’s meager reproductive success in these “collapsed” areas to fewer adult scallops being available to spawn, as well as an increased distance between them.
Good news for Tampa Bay scallopers
Even though the scallop populations in Tampa Bay and Anclote aren’t doing so well, we around the bay area can hang our heads on the fact that the closest open harvesting area to us is doing quite well.
A large-scale bay scallop restoration effort was conducted from 1998 to 2002 near the Crystal and Homosassa rivers in Citrus County. As a result, the Homosassa bay scallop abundance increased substantially. The area’s now one of the most popular for scalloping in Florida.
How you can help
If you head out scalloping this summer, consider reporting your harvest data to the FWC’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI). With the data recreational harvesters provide, FWRI biologists hope to “gain a greater understanding of the [scallops’] biology and range limitations.” Researchers will then use the public’s data, combined with their own data, to generate population models and identify long-term bay scallop trends.
You can find the FWRI online survey at surveymonkey.com.