The 2017 scallop season and bag limits for St. Joseph Bay were ratified last week by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission board of directors which adhered to staff recommendations.

The 2017 scallop season and bag limits for St. Joseph Bay were ratified last week by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission board of directors which adhered to staff recommendations.

With signs that a restoration effort begun last year, and which will continue this year, was gaining traction, the board, during its meeting in Crystal River, approved a scallop season for St. Joseph Bay that will be a little more than twice as long as 2016.

The scallop season in St. Joseph Bay this year will begin July 25 and continue through Sept. 10.

This is for 2017 only.

In 2016, scallop season in St. Joseph Bay was just two weeks long.

Statewide, the season begins July 1 and continues through Sept. 24, though the FWC board also approved tweaks to the season in two other areas.

The 2017 scallop season for Dixie County and parts of Taylor County will be open June 16 through Sept. 10.

This includes all state waters from the Suwannee River through the Fenholloway River and the changes are for this year only.

The changes in season in Dixie and Taylor, said Amanda Nalley with the FWC, were in a sense a “trial run” as the agency explores a more regionally-specific approach to bay scallop seasons.

Bag limits, which were dramatically reduced in St. Joseph Bay during last year’s abbreviated season, will return to state mandates.

Those limits are two gallons whole scallops in the shell or one pint scallop meat per person with vessel limits of 10 gallons whole scallops in the shell or one-half gallon meat.

The most important decision to come out of Crystal River for local tourism officials was the board’s approval to continue restoration efforts in St. Joseph Bay.

Last year, FWC scientists, using dollars originally earmarked for scallop restoration in St. Andrew’s Bay in Bay County, caged 1,200 scallops prior to the opening of the season in order to encourage spawning.

Proximity is what it is all about for scallops, which spawn within the water column.

“We will also continue restoration efforts,” Nalley said. “(Those efforts) have done pretty well. We do know we will be caging more scallops.”

The goal is to reverse a recent trend which saw scallop numbers in decline since 2012, with a red tide event in late 2015 arriving during spawning season.

In spring of 2016, FWC scientists characterized the St. Joseph Bay scallop population as “collapsed.”

The other upside for local tourism officials is that the season has been set, regardless of length or bag limits, well in advance.

Last year, after initially signaling it would close the bay to scallop harvest in 2016, the FWC announced the compressed season just days before the season began statewide.

That state of limbo impacted tourism numbers across the late summer into early fall.

“I would rather know in January than June,” said Jennifer Adams, executive director of the Gulf County Tourism Development Council. “This year I have time to get the message out.

“I think overall (the FWC board decision) is positive news.”

The key, local and state officials stated, has been the communication, reflected in a series of town hall meetings last spring, between the community and agency over the scallop season.

Those town hall meetings revealed that even the community was somewhat divided over whether the bay should be closed for one to two years in order to spur restoration of the scallop population.

“Staff and the community should be commended for their communication, management and restoration efforts in St. Joe Bay,” said FWC Commissioner Chuck Roberts.

“They were presented with a challenging situation and came through with a plan that balanced the needs of the resources with the economic and social needs of the community.”