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Scalloping on The Nature Coast - Annual  Bay Scallop Season!

The recreational harvest season for bay scallops starts on July 1st and  continues through Sept. 10th. Bay scallops should only be taken from the allowed harvest areas, which extend from the west bank of the Mexico Beach Canal in Bay County (longitude 85 degrees, 25.84 minutes west) to the Pasco-Hernando county line near Aripeka (latitude 28 degrees, 26.016 minutes north).

It is illegal to possess bay scallops in state waters outside the open harvest areas, or to land bay scallops outside the open areas. For example, it would be legal to take scallops from waters off the Hernando County coast, but it would be illegal to dock your boat in Pasco County with the scallop catch onboard.

A saltwater fishing license is required, if scalloping from a boat, but if you enter the water from land, a license is not required. The same applies to snorkeling: if you enter the water from land you would not require a license, but if you should snorkle from a boat, you would.

Scallops should be harvested only by hand or with a landing or dip net, for private use. The harvesting of bay scallops for commercial sale is illegal in Florida.

The daily limit, per person, is 2 gallons of scallops in the shell or 1 pint of bay scallop meat, with a maximum of 10 gallons of scallops in the shell or ½ gallon of bay scallop meat aboard any vessel at any time. To protect scallop populations, harvesters should collect only the amount of bay scallops he or she is willing to clean.

Scallops should be placed in ice as soon as they are taken from the water; this preserves the flavor and aids in cleaning them, as the cold causes the scallop to partially open. Gloves should be worn to protect your hands, and a strong, sharp knife with a fairly short blade should be used to sever the muscle that attaches the scallop to the shell. The scallop meat should then be placed in a covered container and kept on ice. The meat should be cooked as soon as is possible.

As scallops are extremely sensitive to pollution, their numbers signal charges in water quality. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) biologists review the status and health of the bay scallop fishery each year.

“We are seeing recovery of scallop populations along the West Coast of Florida, relative to their status in the early 1990s,” said Bill Arnold, a FWC research scientist, who cautioned that harvesters should adhere to scallop-fishing regulations, especially the daily bag limit.

In the nineteenth century, coal miners took canaries into mines, relying on their sensitive respiratory systems to warn of low oxygen levels and the presence of dangerous gases. In a similar fashion, bay scallops serve to monitor the health of the bay ecosystem, providing an early warning system for scientists who monitor the quality of Florida’s coastal waters, as they are highly sensitive to changes in water quality. Declining scallop populations in many of Florida’s coastal areas have prompted harvesting restrictions; only recreational harvesting is now allowed.

A bay scallop spends most of its short life hiding in underwater grasses. It is a member of the shellfish family known as bivalves, named for its two valves, or shells. The upper valve is most often a dark mottled color, occasionally a bright yellow or orange, and its lower valve is typically white. The shell height spans up to two inches and the scallop's lifespan is generally 1 to 2 years.

The bay scallop feeds continuously, by filtering small particles of algae and organic matter from the water. It does this by funneling water over open pathways called gills. One of the gills takes in water and skims off particles, while another expels the filtered water, along with digestive wastes. Scallops open their valves when feeding or breathing and close them when predators approach. The shell can also be slammed shut to avoid silt, which can clog the gills. Many tiny, blue eyes, arrayed along the outer rim of the shell, detect nearby movement and serve as a warning system. When threatened, the scallop can swim backward by clapping its valves and expelling water rapidly.

A bay scallop has the ability to develop both male and female sexual organs and produces both eggs and sperm. Scallops release their sperm and eggs at different times, to reduce the chance of inbreeding. The amount of food available, along with the temperature of the surrounding water, influences the development reproductive organs. If too little food is present, the scallop will direct all its energy toward survival and will not reproduce.

Changes in water temperature can trigger spawning. In Florida, spawning occurs in the fall, when the water temperature drops. Each scallop is capable of producing millions of eggs at one time, but the mortality rate is extremely high, so that as few as 1 egg out of 12 million may survive to adulthood.

It takes about 36 hours for a fertilized egg to become a tiny larva that floats in the water for about 14 days before attaching to the base of seagrass blades. It transforms into a juvenile scallop, or "spat." The spat gradually move up the seagrass blades, out of the reach of bottom dwelling predators such as crabs. As many as 90% of the spat will die within 6 weeks of latching-on to seagrass. Those that grow large enough to avoid consumption by predators will eventually drop off and fall to the bottom, where they remain for the remainder of their lives.

One small creature, the pea crab, lives in harmony with the bay scallop, finding protection within the scallop's shells and taking some of its food, but not enough to jeopardize its health.Bay scallops are very sensitive to changes in the temperature and salinity of ocean water, and extremely vulnerable to changes in water quality. Turbid water (water made cloudy by floating particles and sediments) can clog the scallop's gills. The scallop can close its shell to protect its gills for a short period of time, but it is unable to shut out the dirty water for more than about 2 hours.

Although bay scallops were once plentiful throughout Florida's west coast, they have virtually disappeared in some areas. An extensive scallop fishery existed in Tampa Bay in the 1960s, but scallops are rarely found there now. Charlotte Harbor also supported a commercial fishery, about 30 years ago. Scientists believe that poor water quality is responsible for these declines. In recents years, the most extensive bay scallop populations have been located north and west of the Suwannee River, particularly near Steinhatchee and in St. Joseph Bay.

Once a scallop population is depleted, it may not be able to recover on its own, even with improved water quality and restrictions on harvest, as scallops are broadcast spawners, sequentially releasing eggs and sperm to maximize fertilization by other scallops. If no other scallops are nearby, reproduction won't be successful. As a result, a depleted scallop population may have to rely on neighboring populations to replenish its losses.

Because natural mortality in the early life-history stages is very high, few offspring survive to juvenile stages in natural systems. By spawning and then rearing animals in hatcheries to a size or age beyond which these high rates of mortality occur, the FWC is attempting to overcome this problem with hatchery production, not only with bay scallops, but with other economically important marine species, as well, including red drum, snook and queen conch.

The Fisheries Stock Enhancement program is a partnership between the FWC's Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in Port Manatee, FL and the Mote Marine Laboratory (MML) in Sarasota, FL. MML scientists provide expertise and assistance to the FWC in the areas of release experimental design and assessment of the impact of the releases.

In mollusk studies conducted at SERF and the FWC Keys Marine Laboratory at Long Key in Monroe County, wild adult bay scallops are spawned in the laboratory. The larvae are reared in tanks and ponds. Hatchery-reared scallops, identified by DNA fingerprinting, are placed in cages in selected natural waters to form spawning aggregates. The success of the spawning aggregates is measured by the capture and identification of their offspring by DNA fingerprinting techniques. Bay scallops are transplanted to field enclosures (cages) in the lower Tampa Bay and in the gulf between the Crystal River and Homosassa Rivers. A new bay scallop project, funded by Sea Grant, will focus on Sarasota Bay.