BROOKSVILLE — For those who dive into the summertime fun of scalloping on Florida's West Coast, there is no end to the value of the experience.
Scalloping provides a chance to socialize with family and friends on the water while snorkeling in safe, clear waters with the added bonus afterward of eating the tasty shellfish, swimming in garlic and butter, in a sea of satisfying linguini.
The more literal value of the mid-summer scalloping season wasn't quantifiable until recently — the economic value to local businesses that see a rush on ice, snorkeling equipment, fuel and convenience foods bought by those hitting the scalloping grounds offshore.
In 2017, Hernando County's scalloping business brought a total economic impact of more than $1.1 million, including $413,000 in labor income, $645,800 in sales and 18 jobs, according to the recently released study conducted by several state agencies and programs.
The numbers come from extensive surveys and observations of scallopers, gathered and analyzed by the Florida Sea Grant College Program, the Food and Resource Economics Department of the University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
The county's tourism office has spent much energy and money promoting scalloping and was eager to see the results, according to tourism manager Tammy Heon.
"It's paid off,'' she said.
To complete the study, agency representatives and volunteers quizzed visitors about their experience, where they came from, how they spent their money and even counted boat trailers in area parking lots.
For Sea Grant agent Brittany Hall-Scharf, the research plays a critical role in the future of the scalloping activities. When decisions are made about future scallop harvests, the state considers multiple factors, from the scallop population, which varies greatly from season to season, to the impact that scalloping has on local communities.
The key, Hall-Scharf explained, is to provide a good experience for scallopers and make sure they follow the rules that make the activity sustainable for the scallops and the community.
"We want to make sure that when they are participating that they are not degrading the resource,'' she said.
The state publishes flyers and posts information online to explain everything from how the scalloping seasons and boundaries work to how to shuck the shellfish and cook them after the hunt.
Using boat ramp surveys and flyovers by the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the study estimated 9,589 recreational scalloping trips launched from Hernando County's public boat ramps during the 2017 season, which ran from July 1 until September 24.
Of those, 68 percent of the participants came from outside Hernando County, with the top originating counties being Pasco at 25 percent, Hillsborough at 19 percent, Pinellas at 12 percent and Polk at 4 percent. Last year, there was no open scalloping season in Pasco County, but this year there was.
Researchers observed 27 out-of-state tags at boat ramps during the trailer surveys, ranging from Georgia and North Carolina to Ontario, Canada, and California.
The estimated daily expenditure for a scalloping trip was $84. And the total expenditures for the season were estimated at $805,476.
"The total expenditure estimate should be considered a preliminary, lower-bound conservative estimate for the total recreational scalloping-related expenses in Hernando County,'' according to the report. "This is because the study surveys, with limited funding and available effort, purposefully targeted only those individuals using public boat ramps for days trips.''
Other expenses, such as overnight lodging, water accessed via private boat docks or marinas, rented boats and charter boats were not included in the estimate.
"If this many people were coming just for day trips, then we know its even more impactful,'' Heon said.
The survey concluded that 63 percent of the expenditures by Hernando County scallopers were made in Hernando County, including ice, gasoline, food and snorkeling gear.
The agencies performed another study during the 2018 scalloping season to fill in gaps in the 2017 research, and to make use of lessons learned in the first study. She expects those results to be available by spring.
"This,'' she said, "gives us a good starting point.''
Contact Barbara Behrendt at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434. Follow .