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Dive in to this popular pastime on July 1!
The recreational bay scallop harvest season begins July 1 and ends Sept. 24. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission regulates harvesting of scallops, like it does other fish, in order to maintain healthy populations. At one time scallops ranged abundantly across the state, from Palm Beach on the east coast to Pensacola on the west coast. Today, however, healthy populations can only be found in selected locations along the Gulf coast.
The most popular destinations for recreational scallopers are Steinhatchee, Crystal River and Homosassa. This is because the Florida bay scallop, a bivalve mollusk, grows and lives in the shallow (4 to 10 feet deep) seagrass beds that are common to these areas.
Watch our 28-minute webinar on scalloping here, and check out the following resources for all things scallop and boating related:
- Legal Requirements
- Equipment Needed
- Collecting and Handling Scallops
- Scallop Recipes
- Scallop Research and Restoration
- Scallop Searches
NEW for 2012: Recreational Harvesting of the Florida Bay Scallop: Steinhatchee and Keaton Beach Areas, Taylor County*
Includes a boat ramp and marina locator map for the Taylor County area.
Recreational Harvesting of the Florida Bay Scallop: Citrus County*
Includes a boat ramp and marina locator map for the Citrus County area.
- 2011 Scalloping Webinar PowerPoint Slides
- An Illustrated Guide to Cleaning a Scallop
- A Boating and Angling Guide to the Nature Coast
This guide includes a map of Taylor, Dixie, and Levy counties that depicts seagrass areas and boat ramps open to the public, as well as waypoints for the Big Bend Saltwater Paddling Trail. Individual copies are free and can be ordered online. The statewide series of 18 boating and angling guides, published by the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, provides fold-out maps of regional waters showing boating and fishing facilities and the distribution of natural marine resources.
- Bay scallop information from FWC
In Florida, commercial harvest of bay scallops is banned. In general, recreational scallopers between the ages of 16 and 65 must have a current Florida saltwater fishing license to collect scallops. There are some exceptions, listed in the FWC “Florida Saltwater Recreational Fishing Regulations,” which is available in bait shops, FWC offices, or at the FWC website (http://myfwc.com/). All non-residents over the age of 16 are required to buy a license unless they are fishing (scalloping) from a for-hire vessel (guide, charter, party boat) that has a valid vessel license. Most scallopers need a regular saltwater fishing license, but requirements vary with age and residency. Florida residents need a regular saltwater fishing license, unless exempt (scallopers under 16 years of age, residents 65 years of age or older with proof of residency and age, or scallopers on a boat with a valid recreational saltwater fishing license).
Open season normally runs from July 1 through Sept. 10 each year. Harvesting is allowed from the west bank of the Mexico Beach Canal (in Bay County) to the Pasco-Hernando county line (near Aripeka). The bag limit is 2 gallons of whole scallops (in the shell), or 1 pint of scallop meat per person per day. In addition, no more than 10 gallons of whole scallops or 1/2 gallon of scallop meat may be possessed aboard any vessel at any time. You may harvest scallops only by hand or with a landing or dip net. Scallopers must remain in the legal scalloping area while in possession of scallops on the water, including the point where they return to land.
*See legal requirements about divers-down flags in equipment section.
- Swim mask
- Small mesh bag
- Divers-down flag (required by law)
- Displayed on vessel, must be at least 20 inches by 24 inches with a stiffener to keep the flag unfurled. Should only be displayed while snorkelers are in the water; display above the vessel’s highest point.
- Tethered to diver, must be at least 12 inches by 12 inches; mandatory when using a mask and snorkel from the beach unless it is a marked swimming area.
- You must make reasonable efforts to stay within 300 feet of a divers-down flag on open waters and within 100 feet of a flag within rivers, inlets, or navigation channels.
- Usually required to get to the best scalloping areas. In shallow water, it is possible to wade for scallops in the seagrass, or to collect them from a shallow-draft boat using a dip net or landing net, but these methods are not very productive. Most scallopers go by boat into water 4 to 10 feet deep where they anchor, put up their dive flag, and snorkel over the beds, collecting the scallops by hand.
Scallops may be spotted on or near the bottom of seagrass beds, usually lying on their ventral shells. Often, they are easiest to find in borderline areas where the sand/mud bottom meets the edge of the grasses. Scallops have many neon-blue eyes and may try to swim away when they see you, but they do not swim fast or far. Keep collected scallops in a mesh bag, rather than in a pocket or in your swimsuit. They can pinch!
When brought to the boat, scallops should be immediately placed on ice in a cooler for the trip to shore unless you decide to clean the scallops while on the water. Scallops are quite sensitive to temperature and will quickly die if they are not kept cold. Even if kept cold, scallops will usually die shortly after being placed on ice, especially if fresh water gets into their shells. The best way to store your scallops is to position them in a cooler above the accumulating melt water from any ice. A moist towel can be placed between the ice and scallops to temper the thermal shock that will immediately kill the scallops and/or absorb any weepage from the scallops. The intent is not to keep the scallops alive, but the duration of live storage can reduce bacterial growth. Placing scallops on ice makes them easier to open, because the muscle holding the shells together relaxes. A scallop, clam or oyster knife, or even a teaspoon, can be used to open the shells and cut the white muscle free, discarding the shells and unwanted soft parts. Although most Floridians only eat the scallop muscle, in many other parts of the world the entire animal is eaten, much like we eat clams and oysters. If this is done, scallops should be cooked because many open harvest areas for scallops are not classified for harvest of other shellfish species.
Scallops on the Half Shell
Mix 1/2 stick of melted butter, 2-3 cloves of chopped garlic, juice from 1 lime or lemon, 1/2 teaspoon of seasoned salt and a few shakes (if desired) of your favorite hot sauce. Remove the top shell from scallop, leaving whole animal in bottom of shell. Spoon 1/2 tsp. of butter mixture over scallop, then broil 4” from heat for 3-4 minutes. Optional: clean the scallop leaving only the white meat in the shell.
Prepare an egg wash by beating 1 egg in 1/2 cup milk. Season wash to personal preference with salt and pepper. Dip scallop meats in egg wash, then coat with any prepared seafood breading. Fry quickly (1-2 minutes) in hot grease (375º). Drain on paper towels.
Scallops also make an excellent ingredient for seafood stuffing using, butter, garlic (optional), seasoned bread crumbs, lime juice, paprika and black pepper. Melt a pat of butter in saucepan, cook a chopped clove of garlic, and add scallops to cook briefly. Stir in breadcrumbs until liquid is absorbed and remove from heat. Lightly season with paprika and pepper, then remoisten with a small amount of lime juice until the mixture sticks together. Try it stuffed into and on top of hog fish or red grouper fillets. Cover with foil and bake at 325°F for 45 minutes, then remove cover and broil until lightly browned.
Additional recipes can be found here.