Surveys indicate scallop numbers should continue to improve in St. Joseph Bay as the season opens this weekend.
Bay scallop harvest season begins Saturday and researchers studying St. Joseph Bay indicate that after a lean year in 2012 followed by a rebound in 2013 the adult scallop population should continue an upward climb.
The recreational season opens June 28, after Gov. Rick Scott requested an early open to the season last month, for state waters from the Pasco-Hernando county line to the west bank of the Mexico Beach Canal in Bay County.
The season has opened early every year since the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
The season will continue through Sept. 24.
Scallops may be collected by hand or with a landing or dip net.
Scallops can not be taken ashore outside of an open area for harvesting.
There is no commercial harvest for bay scallops in Florida state or federal waters.
The average number, or density, of scallops observed in St. Joseph Bay doubled last year as researchers with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in St. Petersburg conducted their surveys, though the distribution of scallops around the bay was spotty.
Given research early this spring into juvenile recruitment, researchers are predicting that, “St. Joseph Bay abundance will increase,” according to a report from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
In fact, according to researchers, St. Joseph Bay is one of just three of the major bay scallop harvest areas where the abundance is projected to increase.
Each year, researchers place 20 transect lines of 300 meters in length at 12 stations around St. Joseph Bay.
The configuration works like this: the first station is just off the boat ramp at Frank Pate Park and researchers work in a horseshoe around the south end of the bay and up to T. H. Stone St. Joseph Peninsula State Park.
In all, roughly 12,000 square meters of the bay are surveyed, a diver dipping underwater at one end of each transect and counting scallops along the length of the line.
In 2012, after two banner years, the average number of scallops per transect line in St. Joseph Bay fell to 10.9.
Last year, researchers found 23 scallops per transect line, indicating a successful year for juvenile growth.
That juvenile growth continued through the fall and winter and researchers projected that adult numbers would be “very similar” if not up compared to what was seen in 2013.
In 2010 the average per transect was 138; in 2011 it was 154.
Homosassa and Steinhatchee are also expecting an increase in density, according to researchers.
The average at St. Marks continues to decrease, a trend that began in 2012.
Once again this year, the FWC is asking for the public’s help in assessing the bay scallop population as well as how long it took folks to find and harvest scallops.
The FWC is asking those seeking scallops to fill out an online survey at http://svy.mk/bayscallops.
For questions or seek additional information about scallop season email BayScallops@MyFWC.com.
Learn more by visiting MyFWC.com/Fishing and clicking on “Saltwater”, “Recreational”, and “Bay Scallops.”
* There is a daily limit of two gallons of whole bay scallops in the shell or one pint of bay scallop meat per person.
* In addition, no more than 10 gallons of whole bay scallops in the shell or one-half gallon of bay scallop meat may be possessed aboard any vessel at any time. Folks are allowed to harvest bay scallops only by hand or with a landing or dip net.
* Bay scallops may not be harvested for commercial purposes.
* Bag limits are daily limits; it is illegal to take a limit of scallops in the morning and return later in the day and collect another limit of scallops.
* Unless otherwise exempt, a regular Florida saltwater fishing license is required when using a boat to harvest scallops. If folks wade from shore, a regular Florida saltwater fishing license or a free resident shore-based license is needed.
* Divers and snorkelers are required to display a “divers-down” flag (red with a white diagonal stripe) while in the water. Boaters must stay at least 100 feet away from a divers-down flag in a river, inlet or channel. In open waters, boaters must stay 300 feet away from a divers-down flag.
* More information on bay scallops, including management rules, dive-flag regulations and boating safety is available online at MyFWC.com/Fishing (click on “Regulations” under “Saltwater Fishing”). Information about scallop research is available at MyFWC/Research/Saltwater under the “Mollusc” section.