The surge in scallops some were hoping for hasn't appeared as the season has worn on, but despite the slim pickings, scientists who study the shellfish say there is no cause for alarm.
Speaking to county tourism officials on Wednesday, Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute associate research scientist Jennifer Granneman urged them to sit tight, continue to monitor the situation and remain confident the tasty mollusks will come back in bigger numbers next year.
“This is only one year,” she said.
Granneman agreed the scallops are “severely depleted,” but more data over a longer period is needed before any overarching conclusions can be made about the health of the population, she added.
She told members of the Citrus County Tourist Development Council meeting there are four scallops per 200 square meters this year compared to the normal 16 per 200 square meters.
That is low but understandable given different factors at play, she said, including predators, environmental concerns and excessive rainfall the last couple years, which affected salinity levels.
Historically, there have been dips in scallop populations followed by rebounds, Granneman said.
The news was welcomed by TDC Chairman and County Commissioner Ron Kitchen Jr., who said the commission has received heat for not being more proactive in dealing with the scalloping shortage.
In fact, the TDC at Wednesday’s meeting had an item on the agenda which would have considered whether it was appropriate to use tourist tax money to pay for the reseeding of scallop beds in local waterways.
“(Scalloping) is big for our economy, and that’s why we’re so concerned about it,” Kitchen said.
But reseeding is premature, said Savanna Barry, regional specialized extension agent at the UF/IFAS Nature Coast Biological Station.
Barry, also an invited guest at the tourism meeting, said it might make more sense to discuss either scallop stamps, or staggered bag limits on the number of scallops people can take out of the water.
“We all shouldn’t panic and we all shouldn’t jump off the deep end,” Kitchen said.
Scallop season in Citrus County this year is from July 1 to Sept. 24.
“The numbers are definitely way down,” Capt. Dan Clymer, of Racin Mullet Charters, said ahead of Wednesday’s meeting. “I think the season needs to definitely be shortened. (The scallops) need a break. They really do.”
After lengthy discussion, the TDC agreed on these measures:
- To support the issuance of a scallop stamp people must purchase along with a saltwater fishing license. The extra money would fund restoration projects. The TDC will discuss the idea with the local legislative delegation.
- To discuss a reduction in current bag limits or stagger them throughout the season.