Hit-or-miss scallop season sees influx of visitors
This year’s scallop season, which ended on Sept. 24, brought an influx of boaters and divers to the area.
Most of them will tell you that the season was hit or miss. And According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, 2022 produced a far less bountiful harvest than years of recent memory.
“The average number of scallops in a 200 square meter area (approximately the size of a standard tennis court) was 0.04,” said Melissa Smith, a representative of the FWC, about this year’s scallop survey in the St. Joseph Bay, which was completed in July.
“In 2021 that number was 0.18.”
This scallop season followed three especially productive seasons, produced by compressed harvest windows caused by red tide and other algal blooms.
But though populations may have been lower than some scallopers were expecting, Gulf County Tourism still fared well.
In an interview in early August, right before scallop season began, Gulf County Tourist Development Director Kelli Godwin said that scallop season, which begins the shoulder season for tourists in the area, typically draws a lot of visitors from surrounding areas, with some staying overnight.
The Port St. Joe Police Department rerouted traffic near boat ramps that saw increased traffic during peak scalloping dates, and parking lots consistently stayed full of boat trailers.
And while scallopers come to Gulf County hoping to gather their limits, most of the time, it’s the experience of scalloping that they come for.
“It’s so much fun,” Godwin said. “We say it’s like an underwater Easter egg hunt. It’s pretty neat to be able to go out there and do that, and our bay is so beautiful that even if people don’t want to eat the scallops and they’re not taking them back, they get to see the starfish, and all the fish, and grasses and shells… It’s a fun thing for the whole family.”
According to Smith, a less productive scallop season also produced fewer violations than the FWC has seen in years past.
“There were no violations reported in 2022 compared to two in 2021 and one in 2020,” she said.
Scalloping limits in Gulf County were set at two gallons per person and 10 gallons per vessel of in-shell scallops. Smith said that there is unlikely to be any notable changes to these limits or other scalloping rules and regulations in upcoming years.
With scallop season for this year having drawn to a close, attentions have been shifted to other fishing and hunting seasons, including a fall recreational red snapper season, which opened last weekend and will run the weekends of October 15 and 16, October 22 and 23, November 11 through 13, and November 25 through 27.