NEW PORT RICHEY — Just like nearly anyone who has ever donned flippers and a snorkel to pursue scallops in the inviting Gulf waters of Florida, Pasco County officials just can’t get enough.
Shortly after this this year’s 10-day Pasco coastal scalloping season came to an end, Pasco County commissioners were talking about a strategy to get state permission to extend the season. Maybe even as long as their neighbors to the north, who get to enjoy the scallop roundup for weeks longer than Pasco does.
The short scalloping season only reopened in Pasco since 2018. And while locals know that the little pearls of scallop look luscious atop a a flurry of linguini, they also know that scalloping as an activity has been a good economic deal for Pasco.
The chase, often likened to an Easter egg hunt for adults, brought in an estimated $1.2 million in economic impact in 2019.
The benefits go far beyond the pockets of fishing tour boat operators and hotel owners and their employees. The lure of the scallop chase is also bringing a lot of attention to the area.
During a recent County Commission meeting, Commissioner Mike Moore, who also heads up the county’s Tourist Development Council, shared a news report from the Austin, Texas, FOX television affiliate that advertised the scallop season by showing viewers how to capture and prepare them.
A travel report introduced Austin residents to this little-known place called the Florida Sports Coast, which is Pasco’s tourism handle. “How awesome is that, promoting Pasco County,” Moore said after the video. Austin, he said, was a big market and now residents there have heard of Pasco’s sports coast.
At the same meeting the commission also celebrated four Telly Awards, an award recognizing excellence in video and television commercials. Two of this year’s awards, one gold for promotions and one silver for government relations, recognized Pasco’s recent video pairing efforts to promote tourism as economic development.
“I am proud of our Florida’s Sports Coast team for all the recognition they have received from their peers and other organizations. When you can finish ahead of a “Spider-Man” movie promo, you are doing something right,” Moore told the Tampa Bay Times.
“Those awards follow the increase in number of visitors and huge economic impact tourism has for our community, led by the team,” he said. “When we rebranded in 2019, we did not pick (the) Florida’s Sports Coast name because sports are fun or we like sports. It was a business decision to focus on what would bring people and families to visit and stay in Pasco hotels, spend money in Pasco stores and eat in Pasco restaurants.”
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Moore and several other commissioners took the opportunity to tout the short but productive scalloping season in July. Joking that he wouldn’t reveal the location, Moore said he went out with others along Pasco’s coast and that they could have caught their bag limit but left some behind for others.
“It was the best we’d ever seen it,” he said.
Pasco Commissioner Jack Mariano said that the county had tried to get the scallop season extended but was unsuccessful. He suggested working with local state legislators to make Pasco’s case with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which sets the rules.
“It’s time we get the full allotment that Citrus and Hernando get,” Mariano said. With help from lawmakers early next next year, the county might be more successful rather than “being shut down by a bureaucrat.”
Scallops are a species sensitive to environmental conditions and their populations can vary widely from one season to the next. In 1994, Florida shut down the scallop season due to over-harvesting and a series of reintroduction and habitat restoration efforts followed.
Annual scallop counts have been conducted to show the health of the population. Pasco’s average annual population per 200 square meters between 2012 and 2019 is 10.4 scallops. Before the start of the 2019 season, that number was 6.4 scallops but since then the agency has adjusted their study timeline.
“We are transitioning our scallop program to conduct our scallop surveys in the fall, closer to the time that scallops begin to spawn,” said Carly Jones of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Institute. “The most recent survey of Pasco county was a post-season survey conducted in 2020 and there were 6.5 scallops per 200 square meters recorded in that survey.”
Pasco Commission chairperson Kathryn Starkey said that the other factor that might have hurt Pasco’s pitch for a longer season was its limited boat launch options. But the county is also working on that. In July, Pasco finalized the second of two property purchases near the Cotee River, one on either side of the River Side Inn. The motel is just south of the bridge over the river at U.S. 19 at the northern border of New Port Richey.
The purchases totaled three acres and cost $1,235,000. The county plans to use the properties for a new boat launch and parking area, Starkey said.
“The city of New Port Richey is very excited that we made this purchase and want to work with us on a master plan for this area,” Starkey said. She said the county is also working on another purchase of a boat launch site but did not want to disclose the location.
Added to plans at the Anclote River Park, including an improved boat launch along with construction of a new restaurant, the county is on its way to better access, Starkey said.