From the Gainesville Sun:
A state agency decided to extend the recreational bay scallop season by two weeks permanently and to consider reviving commercial scallop harvesting, which has been banned for 18 years.
The recreational season, which starts July 1 and closed annually on Sept. 11, will now end Sept. 25.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission determined Thursday that the season extensions in place the last two years did not significantly impact the bay scallop population, according to an FWC release.
The extension will help increase business opportunities during a time of the year when other fisheries are closed and tourism has decreased.
Bay scallops are also known to be larger at the end of the summer, which may be a draw for some harvesters, the release added.
The commission extended the season temporarily in 2010 and 2011 to help alleviate economic hardships caused by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
The agency conducts surveys each spring to assess bay scallop populations, and Wendy Quigley of the FWC said Thursday there are no plans to do any assessments to determine any impacts on the scallops from Tropical Storm Debby.
Bay scallops can be recreationally harvested in Gulf of Mexico state waters (shore to nine nautical miles) from the Pasco-Hernando County line to the west bank of the Mexico Beach Canal in Bay County.
Biologists survey 10 to 20 stations at each of 10 locations along the Gulf coast of Florida. At each station, the FWC said, they count all scallops within a 656-square-yard area.
The survey this year indicated the average number of scallops observed in at least two areas dropped dramatically from last year.
In Steinhatchee, the scallops dropped from 136.1 to 28.2; in St. Joseph Bay, the number was 10.9, down from 158.2 in 2011.
St. Marks showed an increase, from 19.4 to 68.3.
The recreational bag limit is two gallons of whole bay scallops or one pint of meat per person, per day, with a vessel limit of 10 gallons of whole bay scallops or half a gallon of meat.
Commissioners also directed staff to look into the possibility of bringing back the commercial harvest of bay scallops, which has been closed in Florida state waters since 1994, according to the release.
During the season, scallop harvesters can assist the FWC's scallop researchers by completing an online survey athttp://svy.mk/bayscallops.
Harvesters can indicate where they harvest scallops, how many they collect and how long it takes to harvest them.
FWC staff and some vendors in harvest areas will also distribute postage-paid survey cards that collect similar data. Participants can email BayScallops@MyFWC.com to ask questions or send additional information.