In what locals would equate with the term no-brainer, the board of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission approved for the long-term a later start to scallop harvest season in St. Joseph Bay.
In effect, the FWC adopted the proposed dates for the 2020 season, with an Aug. 16 start and a Sept. 24 end for 2021 and beyond.
Those dates are all but identical to those adopted for 2019, the year after Hurricane Michael, which unfolded as a historic season for the Bay.
“The chosen dates allow the FWC to balance stakeholder and community desires with sustainability of the scallop populations,” read a FWC press release. “Establishing long-term season dates provides predictability year-to-year.”
The release continued by stating that FWC staff will continue to monitor the status of the scallops in St. Joseph Bay and elsewhere.
The decision to establish the later start to the season long-term (some Florida harvest areas start as soon as June) followed a carousel ride for the scallops in St. Joseph Bay, and those that love them, since 2016.
That year, the adult population was deemed collapsed after spring surveys, there was consideration of shutting down the season before the FWC opened a 10-day harvest window late in the summer.
An algae bloom, not the same as the red tide believed to have impacted the 2016 season, delayed harvesting the following year, the season again a compressed window, 14 days which did not begin until September.
St. Joseph Bay and harvesters nearly made it through a full season in 2018, only to have it cut short by a few days due to another recurrence of red tide.
Throughout that period the FWC undertook extensive restoration efforts, using cages, so-called scallop sitters and some assistance from a hatchery to bolster the population.
Of course, Hurricane Michael arrived in October of that year and in early 2019 researchers could find not evidence of an adult scallop population.
But, lo and behold, the juveniles were out there, researchers later reported and the astounding dividends were revealed during the 2019 spring survey of the adult population and a density tallied that had been equaled only once in Florida over the past 10 years, never in St. Joseph Bay.
Further, as this roller coaster traveled, the FWC held a series of town hall public meetings, updating the public on the restoration efforts and soliciting feedback on season dates.
And that feedback, all but universally, was that in St. Joseph Bay the pickings are right until later in the summer and an August start, with an end in September just before the spawning season, perfect.
Not only for productive harvests but also the economics of tourism, as the height of the summer season will be waning by mid-August.
The county and city of Port St. Joe weighed in with resolutions urging the adoption of such dates.
FWC staff noted all that in their presentation to the board last week.
“Based on feedback from the community and supporting requests from local government, the (proposed rule making the mid-August to late-September season long-term) … is expected to provide both a sustainable scallop population and economic benefits to the region,” staff wrote.