CITRUS COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Bay scallop season is officially underway in Citrus and Hernando counties and will begin July 19 in Pasco.
However, many across social media have noticed while scalloping, there just doesn’t seem to be as many of the shellfish in Tampa Bay area sea grass beds.
Numbers released by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission support that.
In Citrus County last year, FWC observed 21.1 scallops per 200 square meters.
This year’s preseason survey only saw 4.3 scallops in the same amount of space.
Research scientists for FWC aren’t alarmed, however.
“So, scallop populations tend to be cyclical. They’re on anywhere from a five to seven year cycle. And we’ve had several good years with scallops in the region,” said scientist Ryan Gandy.
“So, we anticipated to have some low numbers in the following years. And so we look at this as a low period within the scallop population.”
Many things can affect scallop numbers and where they’re found.
“So if the currents and tides are in the wrong position, it can actually have scallops settle in deeper water or further offshore, or blow them into an area where they may not be conducive to settle in. Or in other years, it puts them right in where the fishery and where people like to fish in that two to eight feet water depth.”
FWC confirms on its website that scallop population abundance is “highly variable because scallops live for one year” and are also sensitive to water quality changes. FWC says changes in population may occur after events such as a tropical storm or an El Nino.
Citrus County Tourism Development Director John Pricher said the threat of scalloping trip cancellations is a big concern in the industry, but said the county has yet to see any issues.
“I think our industry is doing a great job of communicating with our visitors. You hire a captain because you trust them that they know where the things are, that you’re going to have an experience that’s enjoyable,” Pricher said.
“So I believe they’re doing the best they can to manage everybody’s expectations that while we’ll still find some, it may not be to the numbers in the past.”
Scallop numbers in decline
Here’s a look at the number of scallops observed per 200 square meters. Hover over the bar to see the exact numbers.*Numbers for 2019 not yet available in Pasco CountySource: FWC
A Homosassa business owner 8 On Your Side spoke to also has yet to experience any issues.
Basil Green, owner of Seagrass Resort, says visitors from the southernmost parts of our area are always welcome.
“There’s not as many scallops right now, but there will be. And this is the greatest place to take a break out of Tampa or St. Pete or someplace. We get a lot of customers from down there. This is their second home up here,” Green said.
Pricher said there are still many things for folks to enjoy in Citrus County, whether they find their limit of scallops or not.
“The manatees [are still] here. We have some residents, so it’s not as easy to find them, but those charters still are running and it’s still a great experience. I think the Wildlife Park in Homosassa is a great thing. They have my favorite resident in Citrus County, Lou the hippo.”
As for next season’s future after these low numbers, Gandy can’t make any assumptions.
“So what we do, the research institute, we gather the biological information on the population and we look at that compared to previous years and previous cycles and we send that to our managers in Tallahassee who really make the ultimate decision on that. And they’ll balance many factors along with [if] the biology can sustain any harvest levels, they’ll make that assertion,” he told us.
Gandy said 2020’s preseason survey will provide better information for next year.