by Brittany Hall-Scharf
Where are all the scallops? During scalloping season, this is one of the most popular questions that arise.
Abundance surveys of Florida’s bay scallop are conducted along the state’s west coast every summer by scientists at the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute. During these surveys, two divers measure the first 30 adult bay scallops and count all scallops within a 600 square meter site. This data allows researchers to assess how many scallops are in an area, how far the scallop populations extend throughout the seagrass beds and how those populations may fluctuate from year to year. The results of these annual abundance surveys can be found on the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s website .
Historically, bay scallops were present starting from Pensacola and continued around Florida’s west coast all the way up to West Palm Beach on the Atlantic side. However, their range has decreased considerably and now bay scallops occur in isolated populations within nearshore seagrass habitats. Scallops are sensitive to environmental conditions, e.g., changing seagrass beds, increased freshwater flow and sedimentation, and such extreme environmental changes can result in local scallop population collapses.
Environmental factors such as red tide are something to also keep in mind during scalloping season. Scallops are filter feeders – they filter particles such as algae from the water to eat. During a red tide bloom, scallops remove large amounts of those red tide cells from the water and concentrate the toxin-producing algae in its gut. Although it is generally safe to eat scallops harvested from waters experiencing red tide blooms if only the muscle is eaten, you should avoid consuming raw scallops or recipes, such as stew, where the entire scallop is used.
Florida’s bay scallops typically only live for one year and spawn in the fall when the water temperature changes. After spawning occurs, the larval scallops will begin to develop while drifting in the water column for approximately 10 to 14 days until the juvenile scallops eventually settle out and attach to blades of seagrass. Many of these juvenile scallops, also known as spat, do not survive to adulthood; however, those that do will detach from the seagrass blades and live their remaining adult life on the bottom of seagrass habitats.
The Pasco-Hernando county line is among the most southern range to harvest sustainable bay scallops. They do exist further south but degraded environmental conditions contributed to the collapse of the bay scallop population in Southwest Florida; thus, these areas are not currently open to harvest. Through collaboration of multiple agencies such as the University of Florida, Florida Sea Grant, Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, University of South Florida, and Mote Marine Institute, many restoration efforts have been conducted to help the bay scallop populations rebound in these areas of Southwest Florida.
While searching for scallops in the plentiful seagrass beds along Florida’s Adventure Coast this season, remember to practice responsible boating and harvesting to avoid damaging the area – maintaining healthy seagrass habitats is important! Avoid scarring seagrass habitats by navigating in deeper channels, trimming up motors when over seagrass beds and opting to push boats to safer depths when aground. It is also recommended to harvest scallops 1.5 to two inches in size to give smaller summer scallops more time to grow and the opportunity to spawn in the fall. And last but not least, be mindful of where shells are dumped after scallops are cleaned. Shells should be disposed of in deeper waters that are not channels. This minimizes the chance of stepping on the shells or filling channels that could have a negative impact on the surrounding waters.
Brittany Hall-Scharf is Hernando County’s new Florida Sea Grant Agent with the UF/IFAS Extension Office. Within her new role, Hall-Scharf will be working on many coastal and marine programs to address issues related to fisheries, coastal habitats, water quality and sustainable economic resource activities. Hall-Scharf was a former fisheries biologist for the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute and an adjunct professor for the University of Tampa. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Biological Science from Florida State University, a Marine Science Certificate from Florida State University and a Master of Science in Biological Oceanography from the University of South Florida.
Stephenson, Sarah P., Melanie L. Parker, and Stephen P. Geiger. “Florida bay scallop 2010 annual report.” Report to the Division of Marine Fisheries, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (2011).