“Wow.”

That was the way Bobby Scarborough with Bluewater Outriggers characterized the 2019 scallop season in St. Joseph Bay.

That season, a bountiful one by all accounts, will end this weekend with Sunday the last day to harvest from St. Joseph Bay.

For now, though, let us return to Scarborough and the unfolding of an incredible season by nearly every measurement.

All one had to do was travel to the boat ramp at Frank Pate Park the first weekend of the season in mid-August to understand what the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission refers to as the “rodeo effect” of the opening of harvest season.

The boat trailers and trucks that first weekend filled the entire boat ramp basin, the First Baptist Church property and nearly took over George Core Park.

City officials decided after that opening weekend that an officer stationed at the ramp to handle traffic was not a bad idea.

“Those first weekends during August up through Labor Day, every weekend it was just packed,” said Crystal Follin with the Gulf County Tourist Development Council.

“They were just everywhere.”

And, the outstanding part was all those folks had a reason to descend in droves.

Spring surveys indicated that a scallop population that all but disappeared after Hurricane Michael had produced one of the most astounding seasons the Bay has ever seen.

Follin received a preview when the TDC staff helped FWC researchers in collecting scallops before the week before the season opened as part of ongoing restoration efforts in St. Joseph and St. Andrew’s Bays.

“We spent just a couple of hours” collecting more than 2,000 scallops, Follin said. “We could sit at a station and just pull up handfuls. You didn’t even feel you needed to collect all the scallops at any station we had so many.”

That kind of harvesting continued into the season.

“It was the best I have seen in years,” said Irene Acree, who has plied local waters for an assortment of marine life for decades. “They will be larger later in the fall, but they were pretty good size and good eating.

“I love them raw.”

But, before continuing about the bounty, let us remember where scallopers and St. Joseph Bay were just three years ago.

This is the first season since 2015 that was not been shortened (knock on wood for the next few days) due to an algae bloom, whether red tide and another variety that closed the Bay to shell fishing in 2017.

The adult scallop population was deemed collapsed, less than one scallop per transect station, in 2016, the FWC pondering closing the season before relenting to allow a 10-day season.

The following year the season was just 14 days, and delayed for weeks, due to an algae bloom and red tide closed the 2018 season with a few days remaining.

As recently as last year, the scallop surveys showed the population had grown from less than one to more than eight scallops per transect line.

This year, however, after reporting the absence of a population after the hurricane, researchers discovered abundance during the spring adult survey which spanned into early July.

This spring’s survey found more than 66 scallops per transect line, the highest density of scallops for all state harvest areas since 2012, save one year in DeSoto County which was roughly equal.

Scallopers have certainly taken full advantage.

“This has been a fantastic season the likes of which we have not seen in several years,” Scarborough said. “Even the old-timers in these parts are singing the praises of what a positive season we have had.”

Now, Follin said, as with any season there were, unfortunately, some who sought to harvest and couldn’t find much.

But, she said, the true gauge was the number of complaints about the season.

“We didn’t hear that much which means the season was good,” Follin said. “Usually we only get complaints when the seasons have been bad. This year we didn’t hear much at all.”