One month after the first of the state’s zones were opened, 25 days after the second zone was opened, the bay scallop harvest season in St. Joseph Bay arrives Tuesday, July 25.

 

 

The waiting has been the hardest part.

One month after the first of the state’s zones were opened, 25 days after the second zone was opened, the bay scallop harvest season in St. Joseph Bay arrives Tuesday, July 25.

The season continues through Sept. 10.

Bag limits, constrained in 2016, return to the statewide limits and all other requirements reset to 2015.

Surveys conducted last month by researchers with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission indicated the scallop population in St. Joseph Bay is on the rebound.

Researchers survey more than 12,000 square meters of the bay during the adult surveys, this year finding that counts were more than three times, in terms of density, what they had been in June 2016.

The number of stations where scallops were found also increased.

More critically, researchers were pleased with the spread and concentration of mollusks of such desire this time of year.

Of the four major areas surveyed by the FWC, St. Joseph was the only zone that realized an increase in the density of the adult population; three of the four saw an increase in the number of survey stations where scallops were present.

“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.”

The zone’s boundaries are the west bank of the Mexico Beach Canal and the westernmost of waters of St. Vincent Island National Wildlife Refuge.

A scallop population restoration project will also see a second year; this week researchers with the help of staff from the Gulf County Tourist Development Council are out on the water.

They will cage an unspecified number of scallops in an area of the bay that will be established with signage and floats signaling “no entry.”

Scallops spawn in the water column; caging facilitates more efficient spawning.

Researchers caged some 2,600 scallops last year, some were also taken to an off-site laboratory, with 70 percent successfully spawning, according to researchers.

That restoration project, which was funded from dollars earmarked for scallop restoration work in St. Andrew’s Bay in Bay County, is a signifant reason there is a 2017 scallop season, and a season more than twice as long as in 2016 season.

And that scallop restoration effort is a testament to a working partnership between local and state stakeholders.

“The FWC has listened and worked very well with us,” said Jennifer Adams, executive director of the TDC.

Last year, state researchers in April classified the scallop population in St. Joseph Bay collapsed, the culmination of a trend of lower adult counts since 2012 compounded by an extended red tide event in late 2015, during spawning season.

Initially signaling an intent to close the 2016 scallop season, after a series of public workshops the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the FWC reversed course and opened the bay for a two-week season carrying restricted bag limits.

In addition to funding a restoration project, the FWC was also sensitive to local input regarding season opening and closing dates.

State waters west of St. Vincent Island through the Pasco/Hernando county line did not open until July 1 based on public input.

For St. Joseph Bay the initial FWC plan was to maintain the season through the statewide closure.

“They were originally going to let it go until Sept. 24 (the statewide closing of the season) but we heard a lot during workshops (last year) that people would prefer it end earlier,” Adams said.

The better, that local opinion indicated during those workshops, to perpetuate the population.

Another factor is that visitors during scallop season, typically drive-in, hail from areas where schools are already well underway after Labor Day.

Scallop hunters can also assist in the continued restoration effort while they enjoy time on the bay.

For Adams, one message: if you are not going to eat the scallops, return them to the water. “Catch and release” was a mantra in 2016 and remains a suggestion this year.

Secondly, the FWC is seeking input from scallopers who can complete an online survey at svy.mk/bayscallops. Folks can indicate where they harvest scallops, how many they collect and how long it took to harvest.

Folks can email BayScallops@MyFWC.com for any questions or to submit additional information.