Bay Scallops in SWFL: Still A Protected Species
The Florida bay scallop is a bivalve mollusk that grows and lives in seagrass beds in relatively shallow water, 4 to 10 feet deep. At one time scallops could be found from Palm Beach to Pensacola. Today, consistently healthy populations can only be found in selected locations along Florida’s West Coast – principally St. Joseph Bay, and the area between the Econfina and Weeki Wachee rivers.
In recent years, bays scallops have been seen in greater numbers in southwest Florida waters, in part due to restoration efforts in the area. With greater awareness of their recovery, unfortunately come many reports of illegal harvesting. Readers should be aware that recreational harvest of bay scallops is prohibited in all southwest Florida waters.
In Florida, commercial harvest of bay scallops is prohibited. Recreational harvest is allowed only in state waters from north of the Pasco-Hernando county line to the west bank of Mexico Beach Canal and only during a limited season, which runs July 1 through September 10, 2012.
For readers interested in traveling to the Big Bend during the recreational harvest season a few rules apply. 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; these are listed in the FWC “Florida Recreational Saltwater Fishing Regulations,” which is available in bait shops, FWC offices, or at the FWC web site. All non-residents over the age of 16 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.
Two new brochures: Recreational Harvesting of the Florida Bay Scallop Citrus County and Taylor County are available through Florida Sea Grant (http://flseagrant.org/recreational-scalloping-in-florida). Both brochures include a boat ramp and marina locator for visitors to those areas.
Scallops live about one year before either dying off naturally or being eaten by crabs, octopuses, or a variety of shell crushing finfish. Most adult scallops spawn in the fall, and after about two weeks, the swimming larvae attach onto seagrass blades where they continue to grow until late spring to early summer. They then fall from the grass blades and become free swimmers, unlike oysters and clams. To swim, the large white muscle most harvesters consume is used to pull their shells together rapidly, forcing expelled water to propel them quite rapidly. Scallops are prolific spawners – a single scallop can produce more than one million eggs per spawn. Because they are so heavily preyed upon, only about one in a million will reach adulthood.
To monitor bay scallop populations in the state and maintain an abundant breeding population, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has reviewed the status of the fishery annually since 1993 by means of a statewide survey and monthly monitoring for settling larvae.
Volunteer opportunities exist for the public to assist in evaluating bay scallop populations in southwest Florida. These are no-harvest events organized to monitor and document the health and status of the bay scallop population in the respective areas. Reservations are required to participate.
In Charlotte County, the 2012 Great Bay Scallop Search will take place on August 4th. Up to 40 boats and 150 snorkelers are being recruited to participate in the event where volunteers will snorkel in assigned locations of Gasparilla Sound and Lemon Bay looking for bay scallops. For more information or to reserve your spot visit: http://2012lemonbaygasparillasoundscallopsearch.eventbrite.com.