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Survey says: Lots of Scallops!

Scallopers got a 12-day head start on scallop season this year, thanks to Gov. Charlie Crist who made the decision to help ease economic hardships on Florida fishing communities due to the BP oil spill.

“These folks depend upon the visitors that come to their communities to scallop each summer, and they need a boost right now to help them recover from the mistaken perception that fishing throughout Florida has been affected by the oil spill, which is not the case,” Crist said.

The recreational bay scallop harvest season should continue through the normal Sept. 10 closing date.

FWC officials have indicated they will close specific areas on a case-by-case, site-by-site basis as necessary.

“We are testing the waters, flying over daily, and will close fishing and scalloping only if there is a health reason to do so. But, we will be as tactical as possible and only shut down as small an area as possible, for as little time as possible, if we have to do so,” FWC’s Division of Marine Fisheries Management Lee Schlesinger said.

“For instance, we would only close a certain area, and not an entire region, to harvesting shellfish (oysters or scallops) only after we are in direct consultation with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, who performs regular sampling on seafood.

“Right now, knock on wood, there are just advisories (warnings) in four Northwest Florida counties. We will not take chances with anyone’s health, but if it is required to close an area we will make it as small as possible and as short as possible, trying to re-open it as soon as possible, once the coast is clear,” Schlesinger said.

Open scalloping areas on Florida’s Gulf coast extend from the west bank of the Mexico Beach Canal in Bay County to the Pasco-Hernando county line near Aripeka. It is legal to take bay scallops only within the allowable harvest areas, and it is illegal to possess bay scallops while you’re in or on state waters outside the open harvest areas, or to land bay scallops outside the open areas.

There is a daily limit of 2 gallons of whole bay scallops in the shell or 1 pint of bay scallop meat per person during the open season. In addition, no more than 10 gallons of whole bay scallops in the shell or one-half gallon of bay scallop meat may be possessed aboard any vessel at any time.

Scallopers may harvest bay scallops only by hand or with a landing or dip net, and bay scallops may not be harvested for commercial purposes.

Unless otherwise exempt, scallopers will need a regular Florida saltwater fishing license when using a boat to harvest scallops. Those who wade from shore will need a regular Florida saltwater fishing license or a resident, shore-based license, which is free beginning July 1.

Divers and snorkelers are required to display a “divers down” flag (red with a white diagonal stripe) while in the water. Boaters must stay at least 100 feet away from a divers down flag in a river, inlet or channel. In open waters, boaters must stay 300 feet away from a flag.

The FWC encourages everyone to adhere to scallop fishing regulations and collect only the number of bay scallops they are willing to clean. More information on bay scallops, including management rules, dive flag regulations and boating safety is available online at MyFWC.com/Rules; click on “Fishing - Saltwater.”

According to FWC Fish and Wildlife Research Institute scallop expert Steve Geiger, barring any effects from the oil spill, scallopers should see more scallops on average than last season in most areas of the state.

The annual scallop survey was moved up a little this year due to the spill, Geiger said, adding that “every location is looking decent except for perhaps St. Marks.” Geiger said researchers found scallops of all sizes – evidence of three different “year classes” in some locations.

Scallop numbers are triple those counted last year off the coast of Hernando (32.3) and Homosassa (77.0), while St. Joseph Bay had the highest count this year with 138.2. Steinhatchee was down slightly from 69 to 54.5 this year, while St. Marks had only 5.4 scallops per station.

Researchers emphasized that their calculations are only “snapshots” of a particular area, and Geiger said experienced scallopers could find more.

“If you don’t find some almost right way, I’d get back in the boat and scout around more. In particular, move away from rivers and channels and vary the depth or type of seagrass,” Geiger suggested.