Given the precarious state of the scallop population in St. Joseph Bay it is debatable whether predicting the future of season dates for harvest has much merit.
But, the roller coaster is not operating in other portions of the state and during its recent monthly meeting the board of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission announced scallop season dates for 2020.
Adhering to a path the FWC embarked on several years ago, the agency will continue area-specific dates that span from June deep into September.
The goal was to establish such staggered seasons on a permanent basis.
“This season structure allows FWC to balance stakeholder desires and community needs with the sustainability of local scallop populations,” a press release noted.
As for Gulf County, the FWC in its announcement noted that changes could be made depending on ongoing restoration and recovery efforts in the Bay.
The 2020 season was set for July 1 through Sept. 24 with a notation that the “2020 season for Gulf County will likely be modified … in early 2020 after the FWC has the opportunity to evaluate ongoing scallop restoration efforts and recovery of St. Joseph Bay scallop populations.”
That, in effect, is already the case for the 2019 season which is set Aug. 16 through Sept. 15.
During a town hall meeting earlier this year, FWC staff explained that in the wake of another red tide event and Hurricane Michael late last year, the adult scallop population had been essentially wiped out.
The scallops caged in the Bay as part of restoration efforts suffered at least 90 percent mortality.
Sporadic spat, or juvenile scallop, was found in the Bay.
It was the latest setback for the Bay scallop population and the harvest season.
The 2016 season was nearly cancelled before being shortened to 10 days after a significant red tide event during breeding season the prior winter.
At the time, the FWC categorized the population as “collapsed.”
The presence of another algae bloom, discovered on the eve of the opening of season, delayed the 2017 season for nearly eight weeks, compressing it to 14 days.
In 2018, the season was bountiful, the population surveyed a nearly eight times the number in 2016, but the season nonetheless was closed a few days early due to another red tide event.
So, this year researchers said that given the massive changes brought in the fall of 2018 there was a hesitancy to cancel the season outright until the annual survey of the adult population in June.
And, in turn, the FWC adopted an outlook urged by a majority of public speakers at the town hall meeting: at least set a season date and if it must be modified, or cancelled, depending on June surveys make that decision after the survey.
In addition to establishing season dates for 2020 and beyond, the FWC board also approved a staff recommendation to allow direct transit of legally-harvested bay scallops through closed areas starting in 2019.
Carrying scallops into closed areas had been illegal.