Researchers with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission released the results of their surveys of adult bay scallop fisheries.




Talk about whetting an appetite.

Researchers with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission released the results of their surveys of adult bay scallop fisheries statewide last week and the results showed a restoration project initiated last year in Gulf County is taking hold.

And that is good news with the harvest season for St. Joseph Bay set to start July 25 and continue through Sept. 10.

“They are doing good,” said the FWC’s Amanda Nalley in reference to the scallops of St. Joseph Bay. “They are not back yet, but they are improving.”

Researchers conducted the adult surveys in June, laying out 20 300-meter transect lines, or stations, in the bay.

In effect, roughly 12,000 square meters of the bay is surveyed.

In addition to the 20 stations uniformly surveyed each year in St. Joseph Bay, researchers also surveyed areas suggested last year by local officials.

Along each transect line, researchers, one on each side, count the scallops found along the length of the transect.

After finding an average of just 2 scallops per station last year, which the FWC characterized as an indication the population had collapsed, researchers found more than three times as many, an average of 7 per station.

In addition, researchers noted that every station surveyed showed on increase from last year.

Further, St. Joseph Bay was the only one of the four areas surveyed by researchers in which the scallop population numbers increased.

“(They) are very happy with the density and spread of the scallops,” said Jennifer Adams, executive director of the Tourist Development Council.

“We are very optimistic.”

Adams added that the FWC, along with TDC staff, will undertake a second phase of a restoration project this year.

In the coming weeks prior to the start of the season, a certain number of scallops will be collected, caged and barriered within the bay.

Last year, in April, researchers conducting monthly juvenile scallop surveys found little evidence of spawning.

The accepted conclusion was that an extended red tide event in the winter of 2015 had impacted spawning and researchers announced they were considering closing St. Joseph Bay to scallop harvesting for 2016.

After a series of lively local town hall meetings, the FWC board followed a staff recommendation and voted to approve a shortened two-week harvest season which would follow the initial phase of a restoration project.

In total, 2,600 scallops were caged and segregated in the bay; scallops spawn in the water column so proximity is crucial.

In addition, other scallops were moved to a lab to spawn and then returned to the bay.

“According to the FWC, 70 percent of those scallops successfully spawned,” Adams said.

In February, following staff recommendations, the FWC board adopted a longer harvest season in St. Joseph Bay, in addition to other changes in start dates in other areas.

The season in some areas began late last month, in others the season opened July 1.

St. Joseph Bay’s season will be more than twice as long as 2016 and after a season of restrictions on the number of scallops that could be taken, the season will see bag limits return to those statewide.

And Adams continued to sound a call for some conservation of the population.

“Hunting for them is fun, but if you aren’t going to eat them, catch-and-release,” Adams said. “Put them back. It is still a lot of fun.”