Dust off the mask, snorkel and fins; scalloping season opens July 1.
The annual harvest of these tasty little shellfish in Hernando waters runs through Sept. 24. After a disappointing 2019 season, scallop hunters are hoping it’s going to be a good year for the little Pectinidae, otherwise known as the bay scallop.
Smaller than the bigger offshore cousin, the sea scallop, bay scallops congregate in shallow water during the summer. Some years they can be harvested by walking in knee-deep water along the grass flats off Hernando and Citrus counties. More often, snorkelers find them by snorkeling on the surface, their eyes glued to the bottom in 4 to 8 feet of water. Once spotted, divers go down and either grab the scallop by hand or scoop it into a net. It’s then added to the diver’s haul, kept in a mesh bag tied to the waist.
Last season there were very few people finding scallops in Hernando waters, where most years they are found on the flats off the Weeki Wachee River in good numbers. It wasn’t just a Hernando issue, as scalloping was pretty much a bust all the way to Crystal River in 2019, though the supply was better the farther north one went.
Fisheries biologist hypothesized that the poor season was due to Hurricane Michael the year before. It’s believed the big Gulf storm disrupted the scallop reproductive cycle and the migration to shallow water didn’t occur as usual. Many spear fishers offshore last year reported seeing plenty of scallops in deep water, lending credence to the theory. Based on other reports and scallop survey data from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, scalloping during the 10-day limited season in Pasco County waters in 2019 was the best, with survey data showing about six times as many scallops per 200-meter square than in the normally more productive waters off Hernando County.
“We’re hoping it’s a good season,” said Capt. Josh Fritz, a longtime Hernando County fishing guide who runs scalloping charters during the season.
Fritz likes to run his scalloping trips off the Weeki Wachee River, but if the pickings are slim, he heads north as far as Homosassa.
“It would be nice if we (Hernando) have them and don’t have to run so far,” said Fritz.
The dismal season last year is one reason the bay scallop online survey being run by the FWC is an important tool to assess the scallop population. The agency is asking scallopers to fill out the harvest form detailing their catch details. The data is used to manage the fishery set seasons and boundaries for the season. The form can be found by following the link to bay scallops on the FWC website at www.myfwc.com/research/.
The survey asks 15 questions, including from what county scallops were collected, total number of scallops collected and by how many snorkelers. It also asks if the scalloping trip was a professional charter and trip departure and return times, along with the total time spent collecting scallops.
A fishing license is required to harvest scallops unless the trip is with a licensed charter captain. Each person is allowed 2 gallons of scallops in the shell per day or 1 pint of scallop meat.