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  1. Pasco

Get ready for some finger pinching: 10-day scalloping season returns in July to Pasco County

Grab a snorkel and a pair of fins. Scalloping season is returning to Pasco County.

Last year's season came after the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission approved the activity again following a 25-year pause. After determining that enough of the bay scallop population had returned, the state decided to allow scalloping in the area again, Fish and Wildlife spokesperson Amanda Nalley said.

Scalloping will take place this year from July 19 to 28.

Surveyors from the Florida Sea Grant estimate that 782 boats set out on Pasco County waters for the inaugural harvest last year, though that number includes only people who left from two public boat ramps in the county.

"It's peaceful, it's quiet, it's a family activity," Pasco County tourism director Adam Thomas said.

Pasco sits on the southern edge of the larger recreational scalloping area in Florida. The harvesting of bay scallops is popular in coastal communities across Florida, Nalley said, like in Steinhatchee or Crystal River.

The scallop population in Pasco County decreased from 2017 to 2018. The average number of scallops per 200 square meters was 13.2 in 2017 and 6.1 in 2018, according to Fish and Wildlife measurements. But that hasn't been a major concern for wildlife officials. It appears that scallops are on a low population cycle, Fish and Wildlife researcher Ryan Gandy said.

"FWC routinely observes scallop populations that bounce back from low numbers, provided environmental conditions improve," he said.

Scalloping's reintroduction has ignited what could be a new draw to Pasco County.

Florida's Sports Coast, Pasco County's tourism agency, is doubling down on efforts to promote the season. It plans to offer tours on the first day of the season and bring in journalists and so-called "travel influencers" to promote it, Thomas said.

A little over 50 percent of people who harvested scallops in Pasco County in 2018 were non-residents, according to a study by Florida Sea Grant and Fish and Wildlife.

The survey estimated that Pasco County's trial season created about $50,000 in economic impact. That included daily expenses, such as fuel and food, but not hotel stays, Hall-Scharf said.

By comparison, the Hernando County scalloping season created about $1.1 million of economic impact in 2017 during its near three-month season, according to surveys by Sea Grant and other state organizations. Pasco County's season had a low number because of bad weather during most of the 10 day season, Hall-Scharf said.

Thomas took his family out to harvest scallops last season. His 7-year-old and 5-year-old enjoy it so much that they ask him nearly every day when they can go out and scallop.

"It can't get here fast enough," he said.

His family launches at Nick's Park in Port Richey. From there, he said, it's about a 15-minute ride to where they can harvest scallops. The family will spend three to five hours on the water and try to go out earlier in the week to avoid the weekend rush.

Mark Dillingham, a charter fishing captain based in Port Richey, grew up in the area and remembers when scalloping took place in Pasco County before the ban.

Last year, he took groups of four people out during a few days of the season. This year, he plans to organize a group per day to scallop.

"By having it come back to Pasco, it's going to help with the economy," he said. "Bringing scallop season back gives everyone more things to do throughout the season."

Contact Sarah Verschoor at sverschoor@tampabay.com. Follow @SarahVerschoor .

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