By Capt. Rick Burns
July 1st kicks off the 10-week Scallop season in Florida. It is good fun, a nice way to beat the summer heat and something the whole family can enjoy. And oh yes, the best part, preparing and eating them!
There was a time when most of Florida enjoyed Scallop harvesting. I believe one of the main reasons it doesn’t now is because of coastal growth, development and population in other areas of the state which unfortunately brings with it, less habitat and sometimes lesser water quality. The legal Bay Scallop Zone is from the Pasco/Hernando County line north to Mexico Bay Canal in Bay County.
Here are some guidelines to insure a happy trip out for the scallops. First off, it can be quite busy at the ramp, on the river, and out at the picking’ grounds. Please, please remember to be respectful, and cautious when navigating in and around these waters. And no B.W.I’s! Secondly, the season runs from July 1 thru Sept. 24th. Third- the preliminary reports are very good! There are plenty of scallops for adequate collections this season.
Legal Requirements: If you’re between 16 and 65, you must have a current saltwater fishing license to harvest scallops. Unless you are fishing (scalloping) with a for-hire vessel – a guide, that has a valid vessel license. And you can check with your marina, but most of them don’t allow 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 ½ gallon of meats may be possessed aboard any vessel at any time. A “diver’s down” flag (20”x24”) must be displayed from your boat when divers are in the water. Law enforcement is concerned about safety and doesn’t play, so don’t forget it, and display it.
A mask, snorkel, (fins optional) and a small diver’s mesh bag are all that’s needed. The reason I say fins optional is that most of the time you can find them in water shallow enough you do not need them. Plus, the fin wakes or propulsion can stir up the dust off the grass blades or mud bottom that can make it difficult to see or locate the scallops for a while.
Immediately upon returning to the boat with your catch you need to have a cooler waiting with plenty of ice to put the scallops in. Dump them into an empty gallon milk jug with the top cut off first, or something similar to keep your count, then into the cooler of ice. They are fragile, and will die very quickly; however, the ice helps in relaxing the muscle and opening the shell upon cleaning. Remember, keep only 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.
When collecting the scallops, search for areas of good sea grass beds, or just look for the fleet armada. The scallops are often in borderline areas where sand/mud bottom meets the edge of grasses. Most of your “Bait and Tackle” stores should carry all the supplies needed. Give them a try. Now go out and enjoy one of Citrus County’s most exclusive opportunities this summer. It’s truly a saltwater Easter egg hunt for scallops in the gulf… Captain Rick Burns can be reached at 352-201-6111 or visit www. homosassafishingguide.com.