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State extends scalloping zone to Pasco County

By C.T. Bowen
JIM DAMASKE | Times The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission approved a 10-day scalloping season off the coast of Pasco County beginning July 20.

NEW PORT RICHEY – Scalloping will return to Pasco’s coastal waters for a 10-day trial run in July as part of a state plan establishing regional harvesting seasons.

Thursday, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission approved new rules granting a bay scallop season for Pasco and Gulf counties for 2018 only. In Pasco, the season will run July 20-29.

Afterward, the state, late this year or early next year, will establish a 2019 season for Gulf and Pasco counties and then address a long-term management plan to begin in 2020.

The decision got a warm reception in Pasco.

"It’s going to mean a great deal to the county. We’re going to have a season, a season that will put Pasco on the map for scalloping and summer activities,’’ said Pasco Tourism Director Adam Thomas.

Pasco Commission Chairman Mike Wells, who attended the state meeting, had a similar reaction.

"Having a scallop season in Pasco County will have a direct economic impact to the community by bringing in additional revenue and jobs generated by Pasco County businesses that directly interact with local and visiting scallopers,’’ Wells said in text message.

Scalloping has been banned off the Pasco County coast since 1994 when the state enacted new regulations to protect a scallop population susceptible to over-harvesting. The state allowed recreational harvesting to resume in 2002 from the Hernando County line north to Bay County. In 2016, Wells, also a boat captain, asked the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to include Pasco in that harvesting zone.

The state commission approved draft rules doing just that in December and gave final approval Thursday after a public hearing in Gadsden County. The 10-day run is short compared to nearby Hernando and Citrus counties where the season runs July 1 to Sept. 24. The commission’s staff initially proposed to reduce that season by 24 days, but retreated amid objections that the alteration, just four months before the start of the season, could damage small businesses dependant on summer tourists.

In Pasco, meanwhile, commissioners previously approved doubling the tourist tax to 4 percent on overnight accommodations with a portion of the proceeds earmarked for a $5 million upgrade of boating facilities in west Pasco. At the time, commissioners said it would help prepare the county for an influx of boaters if the state included Pasco in the scallop harvesting zone.

Reach C.T. Bowen at [email protected] or (813) 435-7306. Follow @CTBowen2.

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