Scallop season usually begins on the first of July and runs through September 24 and has done so for a very long time. This past May, Gov. Rick Scott asked the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) to expand the harvest by three days in an effort to boost the economies of the scallop fisheries in Florida's Big Bend region. Last year, he asked for the season to start two days early so tourists and locals could enjoy scalloping over the weekend. At least there's more transparency in intent this year.
The legal harvesting area runs northwest from Hernando County to the Mexico Beach Canal, and this year's FWC reports show that the scallop populations in the open harvest areas of St. Joseph Bay, St. Marks, Homosassa, and Steinhatchee have remained steady within the vulnerable numbers while the beds of the closed areas in St. Andrew Bay, Tampa Bay, Pine Island South, and Anclote have spiked lower in the vulnerable and collapsed populations. But marine biology is never a factor in politics.
These declines can be attributed to coastal development and impact on sea grass as well as overfishing the shark populations, which usually control the scallop-loving rays.
Political cheekiness aside, scalloping is indeed a fun and long-held Florida tradition, and it is probably the only time that folks from the tricounty area make it out to the Big Bend for recreational purposes. Harvesting is allowed in three ways: by hand, landing, or dip net. There are also some Floriduh-like legalities to harvesting, so be aware that you can pick the delicious treats in a harvest zone, but you can't dock your boat outside of the zone.
Be safe! If you're going to be snorkeling or scuba-diving, you are legally required to carry and display a divers-down flag. The limits for this season are as follows: no size minimum, two gallons of whole bay scallops in shell or a pint of scallop meat per bag and a maximum of ten gallons of whole bay scallops in shell or half gallon of meat per vessel. It's basically the same as last year, but it doesn't hurt to reemphasize the obvious, since we still get choads around here jumping on manatees, which has been a big no-no since time immemorial.
Regardless of how you'll prepare them, there's one undeniable fact about Florida's scallops: They are delicious, so get out there and have some safe fun with your loved ones. For additional information, visit MyFWC.com.