As part of an ongoing effort to restore the scallop population in St. Joseph Bay, the state is seeking “scallop sitters.”

As part of an ongoing effort to restore the scallop population in St. Joseph Bay, the state is seeking “scallop sitters.”

The Florida Fish aand Wildlife Conservation Commission is seeking local folks who have access to the water and wish to assist in the restoration efforts.

In short strokes, the FWC is seeking volunteers to maintain scallops in cages from April 2018 through January 2019.

“Together, we will help restore scallops in (the bay),” detailed an FWC press release.

Cages will be placed either on private docks or in the bay via boat or kayak.

The FWC will provide the cages, scallops and training during a workshop in April.

To be a volunteer, you must live near St. Joseph Bay from April 2018 through January 2019, have access to the bay with either a private dock, boat or kayak, are willing and able to clean scallop shells once a month and attend or view the FWC’s Scallop Restoration Workshop in April 2018.

Researchers with the Florida Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI) in 2016 initiated a 10-year project to restore bay scallops to self-sustaining levels in St. Joseph Bay and St. Andrew Bay.

The funding for the project emerged from BP fine dollars, stemming from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, under the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) program.

The dollars are earmarked to expand recreational fishing opportunities in the Panhandle, both by increasing depleted scallop populations and reintroducing scallops in other areas suitable for scallop populations.

The effort is three-pronged.

The first is installing cages holding groups of 50 adult bay scallops.

Together with local stakeholders, FWRI researchers have established cages, with over 2,000 scallops, each of the past two summers in St. Joseph Bay.

The cages protect from predators and increases the likelihood of spawning, which occurs in the water column.

In addition, adult scallops have been transportyed to a hatchery, providing juvenile scallops for researchers.

In addition to caging more than 2,000 scallops each of the past two summers to facilitate more efficient spawning, the FWC also sent 60 St. Joseph Bay scallops to a hatchery.

Those 60 scallops produced more than 2,000 scallops.

There are currently about 50 cages holding both wild and hatchery-produced scallops in a prohibited-entry zone in the bay.

A second prong to the restoration effort is the release of hatchery-reared scallops to help bolster the number of larvae that survive spawning to develop into adults.

The final prong in the release of hatchery-reared and naturally-harvested juvenile bay scallops, or spat, into areas of low density for scallops.

The success of the program will be determined through the FWC’s ongoing monitoring of juvenile and adult scallop populations.

In the first year of the restoration effort, the St. Joseph Bay population, which was considered collapsed, rebounded three-fold.

“We still have a ways to go,” said Melissa Rex with the FWC during a recent workshop.

Bay scallops have a short life, roughly a year, but they are important to the local economies of some areas, including Gulf County.

“If we lose the scallop population, we are cutting our own throats,” said Debbie VanVleet during a recent workshop.

Anyone wishing to volunteer to part of the restoration effort is asked to email bayscallops@myFWC.com.

St. Joseph Bay was scheduled to open July 25 this year, in large part due to public comment during a series of public meetings prior to the compressed 2016 season.

But, as most already are painfully aware, an algae bloom that produced an acid harmful to humans after consuming contaminated shellfish was detected days before the start of the season.

Different from the red tide bloom that impacted juvenile spawning in late 2015, and collapsed the population, the 2017 bloom is believed not to have impacted the population, Rex said.

The season opened in late September and closed 16 days later on Oct. 8.