Last year’s scalloping season was a bust in Hernando County waters — and it looks like things are worse this year.
Much of the harvesting last year took place in Citrus County, in Homosassa and Crystal River, with some limited success stories in waters just north of the Weeki Wachee River. Not so this year, as even scalloping north of Homosassa has been slow-going, said Capt. Josh Fritz, a longtime Hernando guide. After more than a week of the season being opened, he had yet to harvest a gallon of scallops.
Fritz spoke to a biologist from the University of Florida and learned that the scientific consensus is that Hurricane Michael, in 2018, came through the Gulf just as the scallops were preparing to spawn. Before making landfall and devastating parts of the Panhandle, the big storm disrupted that process and is believed to have carried scallops offshore into deeper water due to the winds and Gulf turbulence.
That adds up, as local divers have been reporting finding good numbers of scallops offshore starting in about 25 feet of water. Scallops normally are hunted on the grass and sand beds in 2 to 8 feet of water, which can be done without dive gear other than a snorkel and mask. In the summer of 2018, Fritz said his parties were limiting on scallops within an hour working north of the Weeki Wachee.
“It runs in cycles,” said Fritz. “Some years they’re everywhere you go and others you have to look harder.”
The season is different, however, and is perhaps the slimmest pickings he’s seen.
“It hasn’t even been worth going,” he said. “There’s still time for that to turn around, though.”
The season opened July 1 and will run through Sept. 24 off Hernando and Citrus counties. Fritz said he’s keeping an eye on the harvest. If scalloping picks up, he said he’ll get back to scalloping but so far this season he’s been concentrating on his fishing charters.
A mini scalloping season in Pasco County waters runs July 19-28. Last year more experienced scallopers reported doing well the first few days working off the shallow flats from the Anclote River north to Hudson, though the harvest slowed in the final days of the trial season, the first time Pasco waters have been opened to scalloping in many years.
But with scallops as scarce as they have been in waters to the north, the Pasco season may not amount to much.
Fritz said barring any extreme weather surprises, he suspects things will “get back to normal next season.”
“We just need some time,” he said.