By Capt. Rick Burns
With the month of July here, scallop season is in full swing and runs through mid-September. Its good fun, a nice way to cool off, beat the summer heat and something the whole family can enjoy. And oh yes, the best part, preparing and eating them. But just in case you weren’t aware, there are only 3 major good areas left in the whole state of Florida for harvesting these bi-valve mollusks, Port St. Joe area up in the panhandle, Steinhatchee, Keaton area in the Big Bend, and Citrus County Scallop grounds, Crystal River, Homosassa area.
There was a time when most of Florida enjoyed Scallop harvesting. One of the main reasons there are only limited populations is because of coastal growth, urban development and human population growth in the state which unfortunately brings with it less habitat and lesser water quality. Scallops must have clean water quality and vast grass beds to populate grow and thrive. These few areas mentioned still have the features vital to sustaining healthy stocks. Our many spring fed rivers help in maintaining this quality.
Here are some guidelines to insure a happy trip out for the “white gold of the gulf”.
First off, it can be quite busy at the ramp, on the river, and out at the picking’ grounds. The very best thing to do is hire a guide. But if you must adventure yourself, please remember to be respectful, and cautious when navigating in and around these water.
Preliminary reports are very good. So it should make for adequate collections this season. For a succesful harvest, here’s a tip you’ll need only read and see here. Don’t go the first week the season opens, you’ll spend most of your vacation time trying to find ’em. Wait till reports come in, and where people are going to get ’em, then when you’re ready to go out wait till around 10:00 am. then look for the boat armada. The year before last, most all scallops where taken in a totally different place than last year.
LEGAL REQUIREMENTS – If you’re between 16 and 65, you must have a current saltwater fishing license unless you are fishing (scalloping) with a for-hire vessel that has a valid vessel license. Check with the marina, but most marinas don’t allow their rental vessels to go as far out to where the scallop grounds are. Recreational harvesters are limited to 2 gallons of whole bay scallops in the shell, or 1 pint of scallop meat per person, per day. In addition, no more than 10 gallons of whole scallops or 1/2 gallon of meats may be possessed aboard any vessel at any time.
EQUIPMENT NEEDED – A “diver’s down” flag (20″ x 24″) must be displayed from your boat when divers are in the water. A mask, snorkel, (fins optional) and a small diver’s mesh bag are all that’s needed. Fins optional because most of the time you’ll be in water shallow enough (4′ to 6′) you do not need them. Plus, the fin wakes from the propulsion can churn the dust off the grass blades and mud bottom making it difficult to see the scallops.
Immediately upon returning to the boat with your catch it is good to have a cooler waiting with plenty of ice to put the scallops in. Measure them on the way to the cooler using an empty gallon milk jug with the top cut off, or something similar to keep your count. They are fragile and will die very quickly; however the ice helps in relaxing the muscle and opening the shell for cleaning. Any help in that department is appreciated when you’re back at the dock all tired and have to shuck them. Keep what you’re willing to clean that afternoon or evening. So many people get caught up in the collecting, and then don’t want to clean them when the fun is over. What a waste!
When collecting the scallops, search for areas with healthy sea grass beds, or just look for the fleet of boats. Really, it is easy – find the boats and find scallops! The scallops are often in borderline areas where sand/mud bottom meets the edge of grasses. Most bait and tackle stores will carry all supplies you need.
Book a scallop trip today, and enjoy one of Nature Coast’s exclusive opportunities this summer. Be safe and good scalloping. Don’t delay, book your trip today with Capt. Rick!