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Scallop season arrives Sunday in St. Joseph Bay

By Tim Croft
The Star

The exact numbers are a mystery, but for many that is beside the point: the 2020 recreational scallop season for St. Joseph Bay begins Sunday. 

The recreational scallop season for Gulf County, and an area which actually spans from Bay County (the Mexico Beach Canal) to Franklin County (the westernmost tip of St. Vincent Island), is scheduled to remain open through Sept. 24. 

The season aligns with last year’s bountiful season, when the adult population survey count was a record-breaker since such things were maintained. 

The season also aligns with the desires of local stakeholders who have long urged the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to move the season later into the summer. 

Since the FWC board moved to standardized seasons by region, the Gulf County dates have mirrored the mid-August to late-September preferred by local stakeholders. 

For example, the season for Franklin County through northwestern Taylor County began July 1 and continues through Sept. 24. 

Areas to the east and south to Steinhatchee have been open since June 15 and will remain open through Labor Day. 

The great unknown this year is the adult population in any region, let alone St. Joseph Bay. 

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the annual adult abundance surveys, typically performed in May and June, were not undertaken this year, according to the FWC. 

And St. Joseph Bay is coming off a season that was a bounty by any measure. 

Since 2012, no other location, save Dixie County in one year, had reported the adult density has high as the 60-plus per transect line last June. 

And that bounty arrived after FWC researchers had held a town hall in January 2019 to inform the public, among other things, that no evidence of a scallop population, beyond a bit of juvenile spat, after Hurricane Michael. 

And after three consecutive seasons compressed or shortened due to red tide and an outbreak of another species of algae in the bay. 

Restoration efforts continue, with caged scallops in an area of the Bay south of Black’s Island that is clearly marked by FWC bouys as off limits. 

As researchers will attest, due to the roughly yearlong life span of a scallop, predicting abundance year to year is a roll of the dice. 

In spite of a pandemic, the guess here is plenty will be picking up those dice in the coming weeks. 

Though the abundance in St. Joseph Bay is not known, many aspects of scallop season remain the same. 

Bag limits, regulations 

Bag and vessel limits remain two gallons of whole bay scallops in the shell or one pint of bay scallop meat per person, with a maximum of 10 gallons of whole bay scallops in the shell or a 1/2 gallon (4 pints) bay scallop meat per vessel.  

Vessel limits do not allow an individual to exceed their personal bag limit.  

Scallops may be collected by hand or with a landing or dip net. 

There is no commercial harvest of bay scallops allowed in Florida. 

Direct and continuous transit of legally-harvested bay scallops is allowed through closed areas. Boaters may not stop their vessels in waters that are closed to harvest and must proceed directly to the dock or ramp to land scallops in a closed area. 

For information on bay scallop regulations, visit MyFWC.com/Marine and click on “Recreational Regulations” and “Bay Scallops” under the “Crabs, Lobster and other Shellfish” tab. 

Boater, scalloper safety 

The FWC urges the use of a life jacket when underway and do not drink and boat.  

When scalloping in open water, divers should stay within 300-feet of a properly-displayed divers-down flag or device, and within 100-feet of a properly displayed divers-down flag or device if on a river, inlet or navigation channel.  

Boat operators traveling within 300-feet of a divers-down flag or device in open water or within 100 feet of one on a river, inlet or navigational channel must slow to idle speed.  

Scallop season continues until Sept. 24

Stow it, don’t throw it 

Please do not discard scallop shells in inshore waters commonly used for recreational activities such as near boat ramps or swimming areas. Piles of discarded scallop shells can create hazards for swimmers and damage seagrass habitat. Scallop shells can be discarded in a trash receptacle or in larger bodies of water where they are more likely to disperse. 

Citizen science 

Done for the day? Help FWC’s scallop researchers by completing an online survey at svy.mk/bayscallops. Harvesters can indicate where they harvested scallops, how many they collected and how long it took to harvest them. Participants can email BayScallops@MyFWC.com to ask questions or send additional information. 

Learn more about how FWC scientists monitor Florida’s scallops by visiting MyFWC.com/Research and clicking on “Saltwater,” “Bay Scallops” and “Bay Scallop Season and Abundance Survey.” 

Scallop season opens Sunday in St. Joseph Bay