2022 – Central District All Faculty Symposium – Natural Resources
B.J. Scharf, UF/IFAS Extension, Hernando County, Brooksville, Florida
Situation: Recreational scalloping is a popular summertime activity and economic driver along Florida’s Gulf Coast, including Hernando County. Unfortunately, in recent years, annual scallop abundance surveys and stakeholder input indicated local scallop populations were declining. Bay scallops are filter-feeding bivalve mollusks that only survive one to two years and are sensitive to environmental factors like salinity and red tide. They reproduce via broadcast spawning after the recreational harvest season closes. Research shows that caging scallops increases the chance of successful fertilization and is much cheaper than investing in hatchery-reared spat. Method: To help boost Hernando’s bay scallop numbers, Florida Sea Grant obtained supplies and trained of volunteers to conduct underwater surveys and care for wild-collected scallops during the 2020 and 2021 seasons. Results: Pre and post-tests showed volunteers gained 88% relative knowledge after completing the training workshop. Within three months of training, volunteers collected over 1,400 wild-caught scallops. On a monthly basis, volunteers maintained the scallops in predator exclusion cages anchored in marine waters. Furthermore, seven volunteers completed 70 underwater surveys before and after the recreational harvest occurred in Hernando County. State biologists use data collected during the scallop sitting and surveys to monitor the scallop fishery in Florida. Conclusion: Surveys conducted in 2021 by the Adventure Coast Scallop Sitters indicated that Hernando County had the highest scallop abundance recorded in nine years, in part due to the success of the scallop sitter program. Because of community support, this program will be continued through this upcoming recreational scalloping season.