HUDSON — For Pasco County folks looking forward to scalloping this summer, the good news is you won’t have to travel to Hernando County and other parts north. The bad news is compared to the nearly three months of open season north, Pasco’s scalloping is limited to a 10-day mini season, July 17-26.
It’s the third year Pasco waters have been open to scalloping, albeit limited seasons, according to Melody Kilborn, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Southwest Region public information officer. Until 2017, scalloping had been closed in Pasco for many years.
While the data collected about the harvest the two previous seasons indicated Pasco waters have enough scallops to warrant another opening, the scallop population has yet to reach the level that would warrant opening for a full season. Waters including Hernando County north to Cedar Key are open from July 1 to Sept. 24.
“At this point, based on information from out biologists and the public, our agency is comfortable with the 10-day season opening,” said Kilborn. “Our biologists monitor the scallop population health not only in Pasco but the entire state.”
Last season, local bait and tackle stores reported mixed news from those scallop hunting in Pasco waters. Some did quite well, collecting limits of the tasty shellfish, while others struck out or struggled.
The 2019 season was an anomaly, however, as it turned out to be the worst harvest year in recent history in the ordinarily productive waters off Hernando and Citrus. According to FWC harvest data, the number of scallops per 200 square meters in Hernando County waters dropped from 3.5 in 2018 to just two last year.
Pasco fared better and statistically outperformed Hernando and Citrus. In 2019 the Pasco survey showed 6.4 per 200 square meters of bottom, up slightly from the 6.1 shown for the 2018 mini season.
Scallop populations can fluctuate greatly from year to year, as the bivalve mollusks have a short lifespan and are easily impacted by storms and wind, currents, water quality and salinity levels.
According to Kilborn, “the interrelationship among these environmental factors is complex and FWC scientists are working to determine which factors contribute to the abundance of scallops in any given year.”
Harvesting regulations allow two gallons of scallops in the shell per person per day, or one pint of scallop meat per person per day. The vessel limit is 10 gallons of whole scallops or a half-gallon of scallop meat. Legal harvesting gear includes dip nets or picking them up by hand. A recreational saltwater fishing license is required when harvesting from a boat.
Kilborn said FWC will be gathering data on the Pasco harvest during the season and afterward, with the results to be used to determine the parameters of the 2021 season.
“We have various ways to evaluate the abundance,” said Kilborn, including taking surveys from returning scallopers at boat ramps, surveys of scallopers on the water and catch reports filed with the FWC. Biologists also dive coastal waters to evaluate the population and size of scallops. More information, and a link to a survey report form is available at myfwc.com by searching bay scallops.