The Florida Bay Scallop (Argopecten irradians) is a bivalve mollusk that lives in seagrass beds in relatively shallow water, usually 4 to 10 feet deep

The Florida Bay Scallop (Argopecten irradians) is a bivalve mollusk that lives in seagrass beds in relatively shallow water, usually 4 to 10 feet deep. At one time scallops were reported from as far east as West Palm Beach and as far west as Pensacola. Today, populations can only be found in selected locations along Florida’s west coast—principally St. Joseph Bay, the Steinhatchee area of the Big Bend, and the areas near the Crystal and Homosassa rivers with expansive seagrass beds. Healthy seagrass meadows are essential for maintaining scallop populations, so remember to practice responsible boating and avoid damaging the seagrass beds.

Scallops live about one year before either dying off naturally or being eaten by humans, crabs, octopuses, or a variety of shell-crushing fish. They spawn primarily in the fall. After about a two-week period as plankton, larvae develop a small shell and settle onto seagrass blades. They continue to grow while attached to the grass blades by a mass of silk-like filaments called a byssus. They later fall from the grass blades and become free swimmers. Unlike oysters and clams, scallops are active swimmers. The swimming action is accomplished by the shells snapping together which forces the water to propel it. This technique develops an oversized muscle called the "eye." This sweet-flavored muscle is the only part of the scallop eaten by Americans, but Europeans eat the entire shucked scallop.

The name, "scallop," aptly describes the fluted edges of its fan-shaped shell. The shells of young scallops are beautiful. The outside shell is delicately colored pink and white and the inside is pearly-white with a satiny luster. Bay scallop meats vary from creamy white to light tan or pink. They measure about 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch in diameter.

There are some guidelines to follow when storing, handling, preparing and cooking scallops. Fresh scallops will have a creamy white, light tan or even pinkish color with a firm texture. Always refrigerate shellfish in a sealed container on ice or in the coldest part of the refrigerator. Store shucked scallops up to two days. When marinade is used, always refrigerate and discard the marinade afterward. Raw juices may contain bacteria. When marinade is needed for basting, simply reserve a portion before adding raw scallops.

Cooking is a breeze. Depending on size, 3-4 minutes a side by any method will suffice. Overcooking will cause toughness. Recipes with little or no fat added are key to savoring the natural sweet flavor.

What about nutritional value? Four ounces of raw, edible portion will yield roughly 100 calories. Within that portion size you typically see 10 calories from fat, 40 mg cholesterol, 185 mg of sodium and 18 g of protein. The portion size also has approximately 3 g of total carbohydrates and .20 g of omega-3.

For more information contact Gulf County Extension at 639-3200. For information about license requirements, open seasons and limits, contact: Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (http://myfwc.com/fishing/saltwater/recreational/bay-scallops/).

Information compiled from: Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Fresh From Florida (www.FL-Seafood.com) and Florida Sea Grant (https://www.flseagrant.org/fisheries/scalloping/).

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