Scallop season kicked off early this year on June 29 and already, St. Joseph Bay has been crowded with eager scallopers...in between rain storms, of course.
The verdict is in that the number of scallops seems to be up this year and those tasty mollusks seem plentiful in harvest areas that include Crystal River, Hernando, Steinhatchee, St. Marks and locally in St. Joseph Bay.
“Scallop season is going very well,” said Julie of Seahorse Water Safari. “It’s definitely better than last year.”
Seahorse Water Safari runs fishing charters in St. Joseph Bay and spends a large amount of time each summer toting tourists and locals alike to hot spots.
Julie explained that over-harvesting and lack of fresh water may be playing a part in the numbers being down from previous years.
“It’s not as good as a few years ago,” she said. “Scallops are like oysters. They are fragile and usually the first thing in a marine ecosystem to go.”
For Murfreesboro, TN resident Joy Stokes, the season has been positive. She and her family have visited Cape San Blas every July for the last eight years to scallop and enjoy the area.
“The numbers seemed to be really good this year and we did come very close to getting our limit in just a few hours,” she said.
Stokes said that her children, ages 7 and 11, have begun scalloping as well and enjoyed experiencing the sea life that the Bay has to offer.
“We are a family that loves the outdoors and I love that it is something our kids can participate in,” said Stokes. “There is just something about going out there and snorkeling for a couple of hours and bringing home dinner for that night.
“Seafood doesn't get any fresher than that!”
St. Joseph Bay and Black’s Island were reported to yield good results this year.
According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which measures the number of scallops in 600 square meter areas, St. Joseph Bay is up 23 to last year’s 10.9 per station.
A significant increase, but nowhere near the 154.8 scallops registered in 2011.
For those who haven’t yet participated in the local sensation, grab a snorkel and some water shoes, a dive flag, fishing license and some type of bucket and get out in the Bay.
Stokes even offered up some advice for first-time scallop-hunters.
“You don't need a boat to go way out, there are many spots you can pull over in your car and wade out into the bay,” she said. “You just need to know where to look for them; they won't be in the sand but in the grassy areas.”
Scallop season will continue through Sept. 24.
Scallops may be collected by hand or with a landing or dip net. They cannot be taken ashore outside of the open area for harvesting and there is no commercial harvest for bay scallops in Florida state and federal waters.