Recreational bay scallop season will open Saturday morning, and it looks like this could be a banner year.
The annual scallop census conducted by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission showed an especially abundant crop in the Steinhatchee area and a healthy crop around Crystal River.
This year, for the first time, the state is asking those who harvest scallops to help them with ongoing research by reporting six details about their catch.
Earlier this month, researchers from the FWC Research Institute in St. Petersburg dove on several sites to manually count scallops, said Melanie Parker, an associate research scientist at the institute.
“We do this in the same places each year for consistency,” Parker said.
Since 1993, researchers have been determining an average scallop population in a specific region of the Gulf by counting scallops in 20, 600-square-meter stations.
Researchers place a 300-meter line in the center of the area they are checking, the two divers - one on each side of the line - count the scallops within a meter of their side of the line.
“If there are more then 25 scallops on average, then we are looking at a healthy population,” Parker said.
That means the scallop population in the Steinhatchee area this year is robust. Researchers found 136 scallops on average, up significantly from the average of 54 found last year.
While the scallop population between Homosassa and Crystal River is down from a year ago, it remains quite healthy, Parker said. A year ago the region had an average of 77 scallops per 600 meters but this year divers found 38.
“Remember, these are only average of what we found, but they are all good numbers,” Parker said. “Scallops are a patchy animal so you may find some real hot spots and then find areas where there are only a few.”
She was one of the researchers who dove in the Homosassa area and said she noticed that the scallops were “distributed widely, and that is a good thing. People will be able to spend more time in the water enjoying looking for them.”
Don't look for too many, though. The daily limits remain unchanged from a year ago, and officers will be working in uniform and undercover to enforce the limits, FWC officials said.
The daily limit is two gallons of whole scallops in the shell or one pint of scallop meat per person.
The daily limit for each boat is 10 gallons of whole scallops in the shell or one-half gallon of scallop meat
The scallop season is opening earlier than usual and closing later than normal to help coastal communities as they continue to recover from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Although no oil was reported in or even near the state's most popular scalloping areas, Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet added three weeks to this year's season to help communities overcome the income losses that began a year ago in April.
The season will open on Saturday and run through Sept. 25.
Scalloping is permitted along the Gulf coast from the west bank of the Mexico Beach Canal in Bay County to the Pasco-Hernando County line near Aripeka.
More information on state laws covering recreational harvesting can be found at MyFWC.com/Fishing, then clicking on Regulations under the Saltwater Fishing option.