Apparently one message from locals was heard by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Apparently one message from locals was heard by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

There was certainly public feedback that in the face of declining numbers the 2016 scallop season should be, as agency researchers had planned in April, suspended in St. Joseph Bay.

But, the board of the FWC last week also took note of the economics and input from some sectors that any season was better than no season and decided to shorten, but not suspend, the 2016 bay scallop harvest season in St. Joseph Bay.

The decision came two days before the bay scallop season began statewide.

In the other areas of the state where scallop populations support public harvesting, the season began last Saturday and will continue through Sept. 24.

In St. Joseph Bay, FWC commissioners decided, overruling a staff recommendation the 2016 season be suspended, to start the season late and shutter it early with bag limits in place.

The recreational harvest season in St. Joseph Bay will begin Monday, Aug. 22 and will close just over two weeks later, on the Tuesday following Labor Day, Sept. 6.

Additionally, FWC commissioners adopted a bag limit of 40 scallops per person or 200 per vessel, whichever is less.

FWC researchers indicated that if taken later in the season, when they are larger, 50-200 scallops are within the range of a typical bag limit.

Bag limits statewide are based on weight; either two gallons of whole scallops or one pint of shucked scallop meat per person.

With a bag limit of a specific number of scallops, shucking on water could be prohibited by the time the season begins in St. Joseph Bay.

The 2017 season, which FWC researchers indicated was in peril depending on actions taken in 2016, with a recommendation of suspension, was left to be determined next year.

“(The FWC) expects a full recovery by next year,” said Pat Hardman, president of the Coastal Community Association of Gulf County and one of the most vocal lobbyists for at least a partial season.

That hope largely hinges on restoration efforts which are already under way.

The FWC is diverting some BP fine dollars earmarked for scallop restoration in Northwest Florida toward the work in St. Joseph Bay.

Researchers set a target of collecting 600 adult scallops for the effort this month and actually came away with 650 in under two hours.

That they were found at all, given the low adult counts researchers found during surveys earlier this month, was a good sign and an indication numbers could be bolstered by the time the season opens in August.

If the 2016 season was to be held, public input has been strong that it start later.

Tourist Development Council executive Jennifer Jenkins and others have been petitioning the FWC for a later start to scallop season for years.

Those 650 adult scallops will be placed in close proximity to each other in cages around the bay.

It is illegal to tamper with the cages and those scallops.

Propagation of the scallops is enhanced, researchers have explained during three public workshops locally, by proximity.

Spawning occurs in the water column and along clean seagrass blades. The closer the scallops, the higher the odds that spawning will occur.

Individual scallops lay millions of eggs, though a low percentage reach adulthood.

In April, staff at the FWC announced the agency was “making plans” to suspend the 2016 scallop season in St. Joseph Bay.

Researchers characterized the population as collapsed after juvenile recruitment, which peaks in the fall months, was impacted, or so researchers believe, by a significant red tide event.

Though red tide had not been present in the bay since January, researchers called the population in peril.

Since that time, the FWC has held three public workshops and received public input on possible alternatives to suspending the season.

“We want to work with the local community in order to make this as little difficult as it needs to be,” said FWC commissioner Chuck Roberts.

The adult scallop survey revealed numbers down into the range the FWC characterizes as “collapsed.”

“They count everything else, why not scallops,” Hardman said.

Researchers had questioned whether they would even find sufficient scallops, which are DNA-specific to location, to support restoration let alone a harvest period.

And though there was support for closing the season, there was also concern that once closed to scallop harvesting the bay would not reopen for scallops.

The FWC has successfully restored the scallop population at Homosassa, but the area was closed to harvesting for eight years.

St. Andrew’s Bay has been closed to scallop harvesting for more than a decade with no clear indication it will reopen or when.

“There were some concerns with the season, seeing what happened with St. Andrew’s Bay,” Hardman said. “Though the FWC talked about replenishment, there’s been no replenishment on St. Andrew’s.”