There is certain hesitancy about pronouncing the start of scallop harvest season in St. Joseph Bay.
After all, nothing about the past two seasons as been on schedule.
Nevertheless, the 2018 scallop harvest season in St. Joseph Bay is scheduled to open Aug. 17, next Friday, with the potential for the first full season in three years.
If indeed a full season is realized, it will come to a close Sept. 30.
Gulf County’s season in the last to open in Florida as the state moved to region-specific seasons this year.
Researchers have yet to complete and post the numbers from the annual survey of the scallop population in St. Joseph Bay.
The numbers, a researcher with Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission should be posted on the FWC website before the end of the week.
But, there was a hint of positive vibes for the season this past weekend during a “scallop rodeo.”
Last Saturday, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission invited those interested to participate in a collection of scallops as a continuation of restoration efforts that began three years ago.
The turnout was mighty impressive.
More than 100 volunteers, including 25 boats and seven kayakers, participated in the collection of 1,123 scallops, the scallops caged in a no-entry section of the bay to facilitate spawning.
“Yes, you could make that assumption,” said FWC spokeswoman Michelle Kerr when asked if rodeo results could bode well for scallop season.
“Researchers are still trying to finalize the data.”
As recently as Monday, FWC researchers were still surveying the bay, establishing transect lines throughout the bay and counting the number of scallops found along each line.
In a typical annual adult scallop survey, well over 12,000 cubic yards of the bay are surveyed, though the late start to the season allowed a more extensive survey, said a FWC researcher.
In addition to the collection last weekend, there are 179 participants in the Fact’s scallop-sitting program, caring for just over 4,000 scallops which will be returned to the bay after the season.
All of it is part of restoration which began, using early restoration funds stemming from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, after the bay scallop population was deemed collapsed in 2016.
As stated earlier, if the 2018 season spans as scheduled that in itself will be a step forward for scalloping in Gulf County.
After the collapse in 2016, which initially stirred discussions about closing St. Joseph Bay to scalloping, the FWC ultimately settled on a two-week season that got underway well after the scheduled June start.
The agency also instituted strict and lower bag limits.
A red tide event during the winter of 2015-16, during spawning season, was the likely cause of the collapse, FWC researchers said at the time.
The agency began a restoration program, collecting scallops from the bay and either caging them or sending them to a hatchery.
The cages are aimed at more efficient and bountiful spawning as scallops spawn in the water column; proximity is everything for ensuing generations.
The following year, 2017, brought more issues.
While the adult population survey found that restoration efforts were finding some traction, the population growing nearly three-fold though still well short of bounty seasons, an algae bloom again interceded.
On the eve of the opening of the season the FWC and Florida Department of Health closed the bay to scallop harvest after the discovery of a type of algae bloom that produces a toxin potentially fatal to humans if tainted scallops are eaten.
That placed the start of the season in jeopardy, pending the clearing of the water which took some eight weeks.
The season opened for just 16 days spanning from late September into early October.
Over those two largely lost seasons, the FWC made a move to more regional-specific seasons, local workshops indicating the best scalloping in St. Joseph Bay comes later in the summer.
When the season does open, regulations and bag limits will remain as they were in 2017.
The bag limits are two gallons of whole scallops in the shell, or one pint of meat per person.
For a vessel, 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.