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5-11-17

Bay scallop season nears


By Jeffry Boatright


Nothing tastes better than a scallop that you have found, prepared and cooked, Hannah Clark of Mayo insists. The Lafayette County native, along with scores of other scalloping enthusiasts, will soon be able to once again embark on memorable excursions, searching for the tasty blue-eyed molluscs.


To assess the health of the bay scallop population, researchers conduct surveys at several sites along Florida’s west coast each spring. Researchers swim along a 300-meter (328-yard) line, counting the scallops located within 1 meter of the line. - Photo: Courtesy of FWC



Bay scallops live in the shallow waters along Florida’s Gulf coast from Pensacola to the Florida Keys. Usually nestled in beds of seagrass, they are easily recognized because of their electric blue eyes, and perhaps it is the challenge of catching these bottom-dwelling animals that entices Clark and so many others to return year after year to bag their daily limit. Of course, the pleasure of eating scallops is an additional incentive.



Using their hands, researchers find scallops that are hidden deep in thick seagrass. Gloves help to protect the researchers’ hands from crabs and other organisms. - Photo: Courtesy of FWC



Because of a prolonged red tide event in 2015, the scallop population was negatively impacted, which led to a shortened 2016 bay scallop season in effort to propel the recovery of the scallop population. With the scallop population showing signs of improvement, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission staff will continue similar restoration efforts this year.



While much of the 2017 bay scallop season will be open from July 1 until September 24, scalloping will begin in Dixie County and much of Taylor County on June 16, and end on September 10. According to a February FWC press release, that area will include all state waters from Rock Island near the mouth of the Fenholloway River in Taylor County southward to the Suwannee River Alligator Pass.



The 2017 bay scallop season in Gulf County will be significantly shortened again this year due to the impact of the extended red tide event in 2015. Scalloping will, however, open on July 25, and end on September 10 this year in Gulf County.



The bay scallop is a marine mollusc known as a bivalve. Bivalves have two valves, or shells, attached by a hinge. They are found on Florida’s west coast in localized populations. - Photo: Courtesy of FWC

 


All other harvest areas, which include state waters along Franklin, Wakulla, Jefferson, Levy, Citrus, and Hernando counties will see the 2017 scallop season open on July 1, and close on September 24. These dates will also pertain to the state waters along Taylor County north and west of the Fenholloway River.



Most scalloping enthusiasts share Clark’s sentiment that nothing tastes better than a scallop that you have personally harvested and prepared. Furthermore, scalloping is a recreational activity that many hold to be enjoyable and challenging. It is certainly an outdoor activity that can provide good physical recreation, but it is also a great activity for family and social bonding.



As in most activities, however, there are rules to follow and precautions to take. According to FWC officials, the daily bag limit of bay scallops that can be harvested is two gallons of whole bay scallops in the shell, or one pint of bay scallop meat per person. The daily bag limit per vessel is a maximum of 10 gallons of whole bay scallops in the shell, or one half-gallon of bay scallop meat.
All vessels must be registered through your local Tax Collector’s Office, according to the FWC.


This, of course, is with the exception of non-motor-powered vessels less than 16 feet in length, non-motor-powered canoes, kayaks, racing shells or rowing sculls, regardless of length.



Additionally, diver safety is paramount to FWC officials. A divers-down warning device is required to be displayed anytime someone is wholly or partially submerged and is using a face mask and snorkel or underwater breathing apparatus, according to FWC Public Information Coordinator Karen Parker. A divers-down warning device may be a divers-down flag, buoy or other similar warning devices. These devices are designed for, and used by, divers and dive vessels as a way to notify nearby boaters that divers are in the water in the immediate area, Parker explained.


Additional information concerning specifications of divers-down warning devices can be found online at http://myfwc.com/boating/regulations/.



Bay scallop season is simply one more reason why living in North Florida is so special to so many people. Of course, when enjoying a beautiful summer day out in search of the blue-eyed molluscs, it is always advisable, as with any other outdoor activity in Florida, to have an ample supply of drinking water and your favorite brand of sunscreen.