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Pasco won’t get that expanded scalloping season after all

State officials say new research methods might show harvest opportunities could soon hit their limit.
 
A scallop from the first scalloping mini season in Pasco County in 25 years on Friday, July 27, 2018 in New Port Richey, FL.
A scallop from the first scalloping mini season in Pasco County in 25 years on Friday, July 27, 2018 in New Port Richey, FL. [ Times (2018) ]
Published March 13, 2023

Scallop lovers may be disappointed.

Despite a push from Pasco County and tourism officials, there will not be a longer scallop season this summer and that doesn’t sit well with everyone. But state officials say its for the long-term good of the scallop population.

Last year Pasco officials enthusiastically reported that the haul of the succulent mollusks during Pasco’s 10-day season hit record highs. They said the catch was even better than in the waters north of Pasco, which have long been premier destinations for scalloping and where the state allows a much longer scalloping season.

With an activity that brought in an estimated $1.2 million in economic impact to Pasco County in 2019, local leaders said it was time to push for a longer season. But the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which regulates the harvest, said now is not the time.

This year the Pasco scalloping season will run from July 21-30.

Tim Gayson shows off a scallop he caught in Florida's Gulf Coast. [Times (2020)]
Tim Gayson shows off a scallop he caught in Florida's Gulf Coast. [Times (2020)] [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

While resource managers at the agency said they were happy that Pasco had experienced a good season last year, it was a snapshot in time.

“Because scallop population abundance fluctuates on an annual basis, last year’s season is good news but may not be a good indicator of what to expect for the 2023 season,” said agency spokesperson Carly Jones. “At this time, (the commission) is not considering changes to scallop regulations for this year or for the immediate future.”

The Conservation Commission began conducting annual scallop abundance surveys in 2012, sending observers into the West Coast waters to count how many could be found in 200-square meter sections. While the numbers did fluctuate in each location from year to year, Pasco averaged 10.4 scallops per 200 meters over the years from 2012 to 2019.

The commission has stopped conducting scallop counts. There will not be any updates on population estimates for the foreseeable future, Jones said.

“Recent studies suggest the current level of harvest is high and may be approaching a limit in the near future,” Jones said. “Therefore, harvest monitoring is important and may be more important than population monitoring.”

The annual scallop harvest season varies along the Gulf Coast based on studies of the population health.
The annual scallop harvest season varies along the Gulf Coast based on studies of the population health. [ Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission ]

Wendy Longman, owner of Windsong Charters in New Port Richey and a member of Pasco’s Tourist Development Council, welcomes more study into the local scallop population. While her fellow boat captains are eager to get the season expanded, she said she understands why that can’t happen right now.

Pasco went for 24 years without a scallop harvest until it returned in 2018.

“We can’t go back to before. We can’t deplete our numbers,” Longman said. Any decision “has to be based on data, not emotion.”

Pasco County Commission chairperson Jack Mariano said he agrees, but he also believes the Conservation Commission has reached the wrong conclusion. They already have long-term study results from their abundance survey and it shows that while Pasco had an average of 10.4 scallops per 200 square meters, that compared favorably with Citrus County, which had an average of 15 during that time. Hernando County averaged 10.2.

Why shouldn’t Pasco get the same long season as those counties, Mariano asked. The Hernando and Citrus seasons will run from July 1 to September 24 this year, just shy of three months.

State officials, he said, know that Florida’s biggest tourist draws are beaches and fishing. He said he plans to tell local legislators in the coming days that they need to take steps to support the scalloping harvest in Pasco.

“Pasco was penalized for so many years when we couldn’t even scallop,” Mariano said. “It is a tremendous boost for the economy and you would think that Florida wants to see economic boosters.

“Florida needs to get out of the way.”