Across the board, reviews of this year’s Pasco County scalloping season have been upbeat from local officials who pushed for an extended season.
Even the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which regulates and analyzes how the harvest affected the scallop population concluded that it still was in good shape at the end of the harvest.
Still, there could be a big change next year as the same folks who supported the longer season now are talking about starting later.
Pasco County Commission chairperson Jack Mariano pushed hard to lengthen the season last year from just 10 days to 37. But he says the crush of boats on the water this year as the season started over the July 4th weekend raised safety questions in his mind.
That conflict between boating enthusiasts and people who don snorkels and fins and swim around in open water played out in a serious accident that happened July 6 in Citrus County. A man scalloping with a required diver flag deployed near Homosassa was struck by a boat, causing serious injury to both of his legs.
Mariano told the Wildlife Commission during a public hearing early this month he can see a need to back off the scalloping season at least past that first busy boating weekend. He suggested that the Wildlife Commission consider a season that runs from the Wednesday after the Fourth of July weekend until the third weekend in August.
Other season options under consideration for the coming year were to return to the approved 10-day season beginning on the third Friday in July or to start the third Friday in July and continue for 24 days.
Mariano favored the long season again with the start after July 4.
“It’s a great way to go,” he said, adding that the longer season this year. “It definitely was a great success for Pasco County.”
Adam Thomas, tourism director for Pasco County and its Florida’s Sports Coast brand thanked the commission for continuing to work with the community and keeping watch on the sustainability of the scallop population.
Ensuring the scallop population remains healthy also was an important consideration for Wendy Longman, a boat charter and rental business owner and vice chairman of the Pasco County Tourist Development Council. She said she was happy that the commission staff wants a limited season because she remembers what it was like for the 24 years when Pasco had no harvest because of diminished populations.
“We were given a gift five years ago,” Longman said, referring to when a shortened scallop season returned to Pasco. “I’m very passionate about being ecologically sensitive.”
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Fish and Wildlife Commission officials detailed the history of scalloping regulation for participants to understand changes in the rules over time. Years ago, scallop season was not very regulated but then they changed with fluctuations in the population.
In 2016, the agency started to review how to manage the annual crop of scallops, considering community interest and the stability of the population. As the review continued, the agency detected strong support for seasons tied to regions. Beginning in 2018, Pasco was given a 10-day trial season, which was formalized in 2020. Through a special order, that was extended to July 1 through August 6 last year.
The primary scallop concentrations along the west coast are in Steinhatchee in Taylor County and Homosassa in Citrus County. Pasco has had a smaller population.
Wildlife officials said that scallop populations vary greatly from season to season and region to region. While the numbers tend to fluctuate over a three to five-year period, they said Pasco’s population was just coming off the peak of their abundance.
The commission will continue to gather information from the public regarding the season. Those who would like to submit comments can email them to Marine@MyFWC.com or comment at MyFWC.com/SaltwaterComments.
A decision and announcement on the 2024 season for Pasco is expected early next year.