The extra TLC the past two years would appear to be reaping dividends.
A project begun in 2016 to restore the scallop population in St. Joseph Bay has found purchase based on the results of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s adult population survey.
The survey results, posted Tuesday, show that the current population is nearly four-times that of last year and nearly twice the mean of the past six years.
Scallop harvest season in St. Joseph Bay begins Friday and continues through Sept. 30, the latest starting, and longest by days, scallop harvest season in Florida.
During this year’s survey, which was more extensive than typical due to the late start of the season, researchers found 8.1 scallops per square meter, approximately 1.2 square yards.
That is more than three times the density found during last year’s survey and eight times higher than two years ago, when the population was deemed “collapsed,” with less than one scallop per square meter.
The population remains “vulnerable,” the FWC category for adult populations of between two and 20 scallops per square meter.
Researchers survey well over 12,000 square meters of the bay during the spring survey, spending additional time in St. Joseph Bay this year, the survey finishing up earlier this month.
"(FWC Research Institute) biologists conducted 100 transects in St. Joseph Bay to measure bay scallop density and distribution throughout the bay," said FWC biologist Jennifer Granneman. "Scallop densities in St. Joseph Bay have steadily increased since 2016, which may be due, in part, to the ongoing restoration efforts in the bay lead by FWRI biologists.
"Scallop restoration efforts in the bay will continue in order to help move the population to a 'stable' population status."
This year’s numbers assume an even more rosy hue when considered in comparison to surveys going back to 2012.
Since 2012, the most abundant scallop survey of the bay found 7.7 scallops per square meter.
The average number per year since 2012, according to the FWC, was 4.8, just over half the survey numbers of this year.
And that would seem to indicate a restoration effort begun in 2016 in the wake of the collapse of the population has had an impact.
The restoration project is ongoing, as researchers indicated it would be in 2016, citing the need for a multi-year program which enlisted the community in the effort.
An FWC researcher spearheading the project said she had been “very impressed” with the local engagement.
Each year since 2016, prior to the opening of harvest season, the FWC with community volunteers have collected more than 6,000 scallops, caged for protection during spawning and then released.
Some have also been sent to a hatchery to spawn.
The most recent “scallop rodeo” held earlier this month resulted in the collection of just under 1,500.
Those scallops collected this year are caged in a “No Entry” zone in a south-central area of the bay.
It is against the law to enter the zone.
In addition to the collections, local volunteer “scallop sitters” have “fostered” more than 4,000 of the scallops collected in prior years in cages, providing the protection during spawning.
Bag limits and other regulations pertaining to the scallop harvest season remain as they were in 2017.
Bag limits are two gallons of whole scallops in the shell, or one pint of meat per person.
For a vessel, or boat, the limit is 10 gallons of whole scallops or one-half gallon of meat.
You must have a diver’s down flag displayed and scallops may only be harvested by hand or with a landing or dip net.
Scallopers must also have a Florida saltwater fishing license.