MAN do folks in the Florida panhandle like scallops. Scalloping is a fun activity that gets the whole family outside snorkeling and finding all sorts of local marine life… and scallops taste good. I remember in years gone by collecting scallops and broiling them in butter right there at the camp site…. Good times!
But that was another time. Scallop populations have declined across Florida’s gulf coast. Today commercial harvesting is banned and recreational harvest is limited to the Big Bend area between the Bay/Gulf and the Hernando/Pasco county lines. Within this area there are seasonal limits, bag limits, and harvesting equipment limits. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to scallop in our local area again?
Florida Sea Grant has been working with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission surveying Gulf coast bays that once had scallop populations – including Pensacola Bay. The purpose is to determine the status of these animals at the moment. Scallops are mass spawners and need a relatively high density of individuals in order for reproduction to be successful. The state could easily “re-seed” these areas with scallops to increase the density but they declined for a reason. Was it water quality? Loss of habitat? Heavy predation (human and marine life)? Or a combination? We are not sure but a re-seeding project will not be successful until it can be determined that the stresses have reduced enough that the scallop will survive.
On that note, Sea Grant recently held two scallop surveys; one in Santa Rosa Sound and one in Big Lagoon. The morning of our Santa Rosa Sound survey we found a pile of cleaned scallops in the parking lot of Shoreline Park. This is a good sign in that it suggests scallops are trying to make a comeback here. It is bad in that they were harvested. Many in our community are not aware that harvesting scallops in Pensacola Bay is illegal. If you are out paddling around our grass beds and find live scallop please let your county Sea Grant Agent know, but also remember that you are not allowed to harvest. Hopefully one day we will be able to tell you that yes you can.