Canaries of the sea
Scallops need a mixture of saltwater and freshwater to survive. The state's prime scallop grounds — Homosassa, Crystal River and Steinhatchee — are located where freshwater and saltwater mix.
Scallops are delicate creatures. Researchers have often compared them with a "canary in a coal mine." When scallops disappear from an estuary, it is a sure sign that something is wrong.
If rains are heavy or in years with numerous hurricanes, too much freshwater may flood the bay and wipe out a crop. In times of drought, the water can get too salty and scallops won't survive that, either.
In 1994, with scallop stocks declining, state officials shut down the commercial season everywhere in the state and the recreational season south of the Suwannee River.
In 2001, state officials reopened the area between the Suwannee and the Pasco-Hernando county line because the stocks had recovered.
However, recreational scalloping still was prohibited south of the Pasco-Hernando county line, which included the waters surrounding Anclote Key, once a prime hunting ground for local scallopers.
Researchers from the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in St. Petersburg and the University of South Florida have embarked on an aggressive restocking or "seeding" program that is beginning to bear fruit. The time may soon come when scalloping is again allowed in Tampa Bay.
If you go
Scallop season along Florida's Gulf Coast runs through Sept. 10. It is legal to gather scallops north of the Pasco-Hernando county line to the west bank of the Mexico Beach Canal in Bay County.
It is against the law to possess bay scallops on the water outside open harvest areas. It is also illegal to land scallops outside open harvest areas.
It is legal to land up to 2 gallons of whole bay scallops in the shell, or 1 pint of scallop meat each day during the open season. Recreational scallopers cannot possess more than 10 gallons of whole bay scallops in the shell or a half-gallon of meat aboard any boat.
You may catch bay scallops only by hand or with a landing or dip net. They cannot be sold for commercial purposes.
Great Scallop Search
Tampa Bay Watch, one of the area's leading environmental groups, is hosting its annual Great Bay Scallop Search on Aug. 28.
Volunteer boaters and snorkelers team up to search for scallops in select areas of Boca Ciega and Lower Tampa Bays.
The purpose of this program is to monitor and document the health and status of the bay scallop population.
A record high of 674 scallops were found last year, which shows water quality has improved across Tampa Bay, thanks to the work of Bay Watch and other groups.
Registration information will be available at tampabaywatch.org next month.
Fourth of July weekend is always one big party for scallopers on the Nature Coast. But this year, snorkelers can hit the water 12 days earlier than usual. The state is opening scallop season Saturday, instead of July 1, to help alleviate some of the economic hardship on Florida's fishing communities that is likely to occur as a result of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.