Aug. 17 through Sept. 30 for St. Joseph Bay

 

Last week the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission formally approved new, region-specific, bay scallop seasons for 2018.

The revamp includes moving the scallop season in St. Joseph Bay back, opening Aug. 17 and closing Sept. 30.

The proposed changes, and move to seasons more attuned to local wishes, were first discussed by the FWC board in December.

The staff recommendations sprung in significant measure from a series of workshops held around the state last October to solicit local input on scallop season.

What was heard in Gulf County from those who attended and spoke was: get rid of a late June or July start.

“All those years, we never got scallops in July,” said resident Herman Jones, who has hunted scallops in local waters for more than 50 years. “Mid-August through September, that is the best time.”

In addition, FWC staff heard in Gulf County that to make a real impact on tourism, a stated goal of moving to region-specific seasons, extend the season beyond Labor Day in conjunction with the later start.

To compare, consider that scallop season has opened statewide in late June in recent years and continued until the last week of September.

That, as many understand locally, has not been the case, however, in Gulf County the past two seasons.

In 2017, the season, which began in late September, was only 16 days long due to an algae bloom after a 10-day season in 2016, due a severe red tide in late 2015.

FWC restoration efforts in St. Joseph Bay after the collapse of the population in 2016 are ongoing and the agency is seeking local volunteers to assist with scallops caged to facilitate more efficient spawning.

In 2016, working with local stakeholders, the FWC caged more than 2,000 scallops to facilitate spawning and sent 60 St. Joseph Bay scallops to a hatchery.

Those 60 scallops produced more than 2,000 scallops, a fuel for a three-fold increase in scallops between surveys in June 2016 and June 2017.

The caging of some scallops and taking of others to a hatchery continued in 2017.

In 2017, the FWC first experimented with staggered region-specific seasons.

In Steinhatchee the season opened in early June because local stakeholder believed that early start more beneficial to the economy.

Last week’s announcement pertained only to the 2018 seasons; the FWC board will revisit the region-structures later this year in setting 2019 season dates while eyeing a more set structure for 2020.

Public input will remain critical to those decisions, according to an FWC press release.

The 2018 seasons approved last week:

• Franklin County through northwestern Taylor County (including Carrabelle, Lanark and St. Marks): July 1 through Sept. 24. This region includes all state waters from the westernmost point of St. Vincent Island in Franklin County to Rock Island near the mouth of the Fenholloway River in Taylor County.

• The remaining portion of Taylor County and all of Dixie County (including Keaton Beach and the Steinhatchee area): the third Saturday in June (June 16) through Sept. 10. This region includes all state waters east of Rock Island near the mouth of the Fenholloway River in Taylor County and north of Alligator Pass Daybeacon #4 near the mouth of the Suwannee River in Levy County.

• Levy, Citrus and Hernando counties (including Cedar Key, Crystal River and Homosassa): July 1 through Sept. 24 (previously slated for July 10 through Sept. 10). This region includes all state waters south of Alligator Pass Daybeacon #4 near the mouth of the Suwannee River in Levy County and north of the Hernando – Pasco county line.

• St. Joseph Bay and Gulf County: Aug. 17 through Sept. 30. This region includes all state waters from the Mexico Beach Canal in Bay County to the westernmost point of St. Vincent Island in Franklin County.

• Pasco County: Establish a trial 10-day open season to run July 20-29. This region includes all state waters south of the Hernando – Pasco county line and north of the Anclote Key Lighthouse in northern Pinellas County, and includes all waters of the Anclote River.