To monitor bay scallop populations in the state and maintain a plentiful breeding population, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) annually reviews the status of the scallop stock in the Gulf of Mexico. Results of surveys have continually shown that the scallop population within the Big Bend counties are key to the sustainability of the recreational harvest.
The scallops along the west coast of Florida are considered groups of interconnected subpopulations, called a “metapopulation.” Some scientific studies have compared the genetics from different subpopulations, showing that the Steinhatchee area may be supploying larvae to other subpopulations. Over time, the core population expands and contracts on the edges, leading to variable catches from year to year. Unlike other areas where scallop populations have crashed due to overfishing, degraded water quality and loss of critical seagrass habitat, the Big Bend supports a healthy, sustained crop almost every year. Efforts to restore scallop populations are ongoing in several areas of Florida, including the southwest region, where scallops flourished and supported a productive commercial fishery in the 1950s and ‘60s.
Early restocking efforts examined what was more effective, cage or freeplanting cultured scallops. Scallops are known to be “synchronized spawners” — when one spawns, they all do. A number of adult, spawning scallops were placed in cages on bay bottoms where healthy populations previously existed. It was found that hatchery-reared scallops held in close proximity appeared to have an increased chance of successfully reproducing over natural scallops that are sparsely distributed. Recent studies by researchers, including scientists from University of Florida, University of South Florida, Mote Marine Laboratory and FWC, have shown that adult populations may quickly rebound in some Southwest Florida locations when hatcheryreared “pediveligers,” the last planktonic stage, are introduced into temporary enclosures on seagrass. Future genetic studies and experimental releases in SW Florida are expected to evaluate the long-term effectiveness of using aquaculture to increase scallop populations.