Have a strong opinion about scallops and the harvest season in St. Joseph Bay, have information to share about the scallop population; tonight is the night.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will host a workshop 5:30 p.m. ET tonight at the Port St. Joe Public Library on 110 Library Drive adjacent to the County Courthouse.

“The FWC needs public input on the Gulf County (including St. Joseph Bay) bay scallop season dates for 2020 and future years,” according to a FWC press release.

For several years, the agency has strived to establish seasons which are regionally-specific and aim to meet the local needs and wants as they pertain to a scallop season.

Some areas in Central Florida prefer an early season.

The effort gained traction after the scallop season in Gulf County was nearly cancelled after a 2015 red tide event.

“Since then the FWC has been working with the community to set seasons each year that balance scalloping opportunities with the continued recovery of the scallop population,” according to the FWC press release.

“The FWC has also been working with other communities to create long-term season dates across all the areas open to scalloping that meet the needs of different areas.”

The Gulf County component of the effort has been tricky.

The seasons between 2016 and 2018 were each impacted by either red tide or another algae outbreak and two seasons were compressed to just 10-14 days and the 2018 season cut short due another red tide outbreak.

However, scallop restoration efforts began to show progress, with the scallop count improving from less than one per transect line in 2016 to eight scallops per transect line in 2018.

Those restoration efforts continued into this summer with thousands of scallops in cages in the Bay and also in St. Andrew’s Bay as part of restoration efforts there.

But, Hurricane Michael arrived last October and according to initial surveys in the fall months, reported by FWC researchers early this year, showed the complete absence of an adult scallop population.

Talk about rebounds, however.

By the June and July adult scallop surveys the population had exploded eight times over with a count of more than 60 scallops per transect line and the ensuing season was, by all accounts, bountiful.

The count was higher than all but one area in the state over the past seven years, according to FWC records.

The 2019 season, however, did not begin until mid-August and continued until mid-September.

And that time of year has been the overwhelming favorite expressed by locals during workshops and town hall meetings conducted by the FWC over the previous three years.

Consistently, FWC staff has heard from local residents a wish to start the season later in the year (for several years prior to 2016 the season began in late June statewide).

One part of the argument was reflected this year with the late start meaning larger scallops, requiring less work to get to the meat.

“It has been a great season, the best I can ever remember,” said resident Irene Acree.

Another key aspect of the local argument pertains to tourists.

Scallop season is an important part of the tourist calendar and that was demonstrated this year.

While Gulf County Tourist Development Council bed tax revenue was down a consistent 25 percent or so per month through the spring and summer, reflecting the estimated loss of lodging inventory to Michael, bed tax revenue was down just 8 percent in August.

“I would attribute that to the great scallop season we had,” said TDC executive director Kelli Godwin.

September’s numbers, due to Michael the year before, were not accurately available.

In May, the FWC board asked staff to set “placeholder” season dates for Gulf County.

Those dates would have the season open July 1 and continue through Sept. 24.

However, there was an important caveat.

“The 2020 season for Gulf County will likely be modified by executive order in early 2020 after the FWC has the opportunity to evaluate ongoing scallop restoration efforts and recovery of the St. Joseph Bay population,” according to a press release.