After 24 years, scalloping returns to Pasco County

TAILYR IRVINE   |   Times This scallop was caught on July 27 during the first scalloping  season in Pasco County in 24 years.
TAILYR IRVINE | Times This scallop was caught on July 27 during the first scalloping season in Pasco County in 24 years.
Published July 31, 2018

ANCLOTE KEY — Snorkeling gear and mesh bag in hand, Mike Mayo, of Westchase, and his family were ready for the last Friday of Pasco's 10-day scalloping season.

Mayo and his son, Brenden, had been out once already during the season, but this was the first time for everyone else in the boat.

The boat was anchored off the coast of Dutchmen Key, where Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officers were stopping boats July 27 to perform safety checks .

The water in the area was clear and shallow, making it an easy place to find and snatch the small shelled creatures often nestled in the tall grass on the floor.

But careful, they pinch.

After Pasco's first scalloping season in 24 years, county officials, fish and wildlife experts and Tampa Bay residents are hopeful that it will become an annual event.

In February, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission approved a 2018 scalloping mini-season in Pasco. The state will set guidelines for a 2019 season and then look into a long-term plan beginning in 2020.

FWC law enforcement had an "all hands on deck" approach during the 10 days. They patrolled daily.

"We want everyone to have fun," Melody Kilborn, FWC public information officer, said. "But we also want to make sure everyone's staying safe."

FWC biologists want to make sure an annual season won't damage the local scallop population.

Pasco's average scallop population during the past six years is about 11 scallops per every 200 square meters.

The state banned scalloping in 1994 due to a fear of over-harvesting. Hernando County resumed scalloping in 2002, but the Gulf Coast south of Hernando and north of the Anclote Key Lighthouse was off limits until this year.

The commission set rules for how many scallops each boat could collect each day — up to 10 gallons of whole scallops or a half gallon of scallop meat. Each person could collect no more than 2 gallons of whole scallops or 1 pint of scallop meat.

Scallop fishers were encouraged to report their catch online to help researchers determine populations and long-term plans.

The county is compiling data to determine the number of visitors who came to Pasco County for scalloping. The report should be finished within six weeks, said Pasco Tourism Director Adam Thomas.

For future seasons, the county plans to build more boat ramps to make the water more accessible for scallop fishing. Those plans are in the early stages, said Brendan Fitterer, Pasco County public information officer.

Thomas noticed a lot of people came into Pasco from other areas. He stopped four boats on the first day: two were local, one was from Chicago and one was from Alabama.

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A scalloping season brings money into the county, Thomas said, whether it's spent in restaurants, hotels or local businesses.

Daniel Griner also anchored on July 27 off the coast of Anclote Island.

Born and raised in Safety Harbor, Griner remembered coming to scallop in Pasco County with his brother and dad in a small john boat. Before Pasco approved a new scalloping season, Griner, who now lives in Clearwater, had to go up to Hernando County.

He spent the first weekend of Pasco's season off Anclote, as well, and said he and his friends reached their scallop limit within the first few hours. This time was proving more difficult.

But he didn't care.

Coming back to Pasco County made him nostalgic, thinking about the times he spent scalloping there with his dad and brother. Both have since died.

"I get little goosebumps just thinking about the memories," Griner said.

Contact Laurel Demkovich at Follow @LaurelDemkovich.

RELATED: (State extends scalloping zone.)