Monday felt like Saturday at Citrus County’s coastal boat ramps.
But the worst is yet to come.
The first day of the nearly three-month long scallop season kicked off Monday, and while boat ramps were busy they weren’t nearly as busy as they’ll be for Thursday’s July 4 holiday and the weekend that follows.
“Wednesday’s going to be crazy,” Homosassa resident Scott Thompson said. “Wednesday will be nuts.”
Thompson was parking cars and trailers in his yard just down the street from the county boat ramp at MacRae’s. Jokingly, he said parking is free but a golf cart ride to the boat ramp is $20.
“I thought it was going to be busy today,” he said in his half-empty yard. “If it would have started on Saturday, it would be packed.”
Boat ramps showed a steady stream of boaters throughout the morning and early afternoon, but there were no long lines of parked boat trailers at Fort Island Trail or Fort Island Gulf Beach ramps on the Crystal River.
Same was true for the city’s boat ramp off U.S. 19 at King’s Bay.
“The parking lot at the firehouse wasn’t jam packed like normal,” Councilman Robert Holmes said. “I’m sure that’s going to change as the holiday gets closer.”
Karen Parker, spokeswoman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, referred to as the FWC, said officers were looking for dive-flag violations.
The dive flag serves a significant safety purpose: It lets other boaters know scallopers are in the water, and requires boaters to steer clear of the flag. Failure to do either could result in a citation.
“We’re really cracking down on not having a dive flag displayed properly,” she said. “If you see a boat with a dive flag, you have to go idle speed through that section.”
Parker said she was with an officer Monday morning near Crystal River and Homosassa, and one boater was cited for not displaying the dive flag.
She said day one of scallop season seemed busy.
“It was just a parade of boats,” she said.
FWC will be out in force for the July 4 holiday and also taking part of a special nationwide program this weekend, Operation Dry Water, aimed at stopping drunk boating.
Scallop season also raises the interest of those who advocate for the safe disposal of scallop shells.
The Homosassa River Alliance, which kicked on in earnest an education campaign last year, is hoping boaters will continue to keep scallop shells in their boats and discard them once on land, in a trash container.
“We certainly got the message out,” alliance president Frank Kapocsi said. “Last year was very successful. Once the public is made aware that disposing of scallop shells — especially in the Blue Water — affects the health of the river, they’re respectful of that.”