Scalloping in Florida | “How-to” Guide

Bay Scallops are a popular delicacy in Florida. Like stone crabs, Caribbean lobsters, rock shrimp, and grouper, Bay Scallops are a pleasure that Florida homeowners and visitors may pick on their own and then cook and enjoy at home.

Some Info on Scallops

Essentially, Bay Scallops are smaller than sea scallops and have a distinct color when served at upscale seafood restaurants (usually found either in light beige or pink color vs. the traditional white hue of a sea scallop). When cooked, their flesh is sweeter and more tender than their larger sea cousins.  One seafood restaurant I recently dined at was Jesse’s Steak and Seafood in Brandon, FL.

Scallop shells are lighter than oyster and clam shells, allowing for easier swimming. Since a scallop cannot dig, its shell must also serve as camouflage.

Are you concerned about consuming them? Scallops are among the cleanest shellfish on the market, and they are delicious when drenched in a lemon butter sauce. Because the abductor’s muscle is not used to filter water, scallops are not as sensitive to poisons or pollutants as other shellfish.

If you’re new to the pastime of harvesting Bay Scallops, here’s a quick lesson on what you should know before diving in.

Bay Scallops

2022 Scallop Season Dates

The following are the scalloping season dates by county:

  • St. Joseph Bay and Gulf County: August 16 to September 24, 2022
  • July 1 through to September 24, 2022, Franklin County through northeastern Taylor County (including Carrabelle, Lanark, and St. Marks)
  • June 15 through Labor Day for the Fenholloway to Suwannee Rivers Zone (covering Keaton Beach and the Steinhatchee region)
  • Levy, Citrus County, and Hernando counties (including Cedar Key, Crystal River, and Homosassa): July 1 to September 24, 2022
  • Pasco County, Florida: July 16 through to July 25, 2022

Harvest Areas Closed

The FWC has closed harvest areas labeled “study areas” where Bay Scallop stocks are considered fragile and are being studied. They are as follows:

  • Pensacola Bay (Santa Rosa and Escambia Counties)
  • St. Andrew Bay (Bay County)
  • Anclote (Pasco and Pinellas Counties)
  • Tampa Bay (Pinellas, Hillsborough, and Manatee Counties)
  • Pine Island Sound (Lee County)

*Further, the FWC does allow the direct transit of legally harvested Bay Scallops through closed areas.

It is illegal to possess scallops on any waters outside the open harvest areas, and it’s illegal to bring scallops to shore in such areas.

Being Aware of Harvest Bay Scallops

Bay Scallops (Argopecten irradians) can be found in Florida’s Gulf Coast between Pensacola and the Florida Keys. In addition, there are smaller, more isolated populations in Florida Bay.

Because most of these regions have a delicate balance of environment and populations, you cannot harvest Bay Scallops from all of them.

What Is a Bay Scallop?

A Bay Scallop is a mollusk belonging to the Bivalve mollusk family. Bivalves are simple, two-part shelled organisms.

They are bottom dwellers that live in shallow waters. These scallops eat by opening their shells and filtering organic materials and algae. They can grow to be 3 1/2 inches long and survive for up to two years. The average Florida Bay Scallop harvested is smaller, with a maximum average length of 3 inches and a lifespan of one year.

How to Identify Bay Scallops

Most of us have a good idea of what a scallop looks like in general, akin to the Shell Gas Station logo.

Their top shell is usually black in color to help with camouflage from above, while the bottom half is bright yellow or orange.

While their shell is cracked open, they have several vivid blue eyes that may be seen from a short distance. Scallops will close them as you go closer, and the string of little blue dots will vanish. It should be noted that if a Bay Scallop feels threatened, it can force itself backward from the approaching threat.

How to Harvest Bay/Sea Scallops

Harvesting scallops is a pleasant and very simple form of fishing on a warm summer day. While doing so, you will be immersed in beautiful natural surroundings and have the opportunity to swim with sea life in many scalloping areas. Turtles, manatees, and dolphins are all possible sightings along Florida’s white sandy beaches and coasts.

Method to Catch Scallops

The hunt begins when you arrive at the scalloping sites. Scallopers dive into the water and search the bottom for scallops.

In general, after the first is discovered, several more can be collected from the same location. While swimming, most people use a mesh bag to store their scallop catch, which is then transferred to a cooler once back on the boat.

When you run out of scallops in one location, you go on to the next (unless you’ve already reached your bag limit).

Gear Requirements

To get into the water and harvest scallops, you must be able to move around and see what’s around you. These needs are met by basic snorkeling equipment.

Here is a complete list:

  • Mask
  • Snorkel
  • Fins
  • Mesh Net (to store your harvest)
  • Dive Flag (for safety)

The daily bag limit is two gallons of whole Bay Scallops in the shell or one pint of scallop flesh per person. At any given moment, no vessel may have more than 10 gallons of whole Bay Scallops or 1/2 gallon of Bay Scallop meat or one pint of scallops shucked per person.

Scalloping in Florida

When planning your trip, make sure to check out the local area you have decided on for your adventure.

Scallop habitats in Florida’s Gulf Coast are based on small populations. They all have some qualities in common that you should be mindful of. Shallow depths (4-6 feet of water) and lush grass bottoms are some examples. Catching Florida scallops is one of the best things to do in Florida.

Crystal River, Florida

Crystal River is a popular site for visitors to the state as well as residents looking for close Florida scalloping grounds. This area of Florida is known as The Nature Coast.

There is a magnificent inshore environment in Crystal River that provides both amazing scallop harvesting habitats and wildlife viewing and immersion opportunities. The scallop populations are thriving, and the water is clear and pleasant. Florida scalloping is the best family activity you can do by the beach.

Homosassa River

Homosassa is another popular tourist site for similar reasons as Crystal River. Furthermore, both locations contain extensive seagrass beds and are river-fed. Homosassa has a more historic Florida feel to it, which appeals to visitors seeking that experience.

Just south of Homosassa, you’ll find Hernando Beach and Bayport Pier, two ideal scallop destinations just minutes from each other

Keaton Beach

Keaton Beach, also in Northwestern Taylor County, is a favorite scalloping location. The grass beds in this area are extensive (made up of both Manatee and Turtle grass). This area can also become congested with boats where scallops are found; for the best results, speak with a local to find spots with less competition on the scalloping grounds.

Port St. Joe

Between Mexico Beach and Cape San Blas in Port St. Joe. This area is known as “The Forgotten Coast,” and it can provide an excellent scalloping experience. Surprisingly, according to the FWC’s most recent population count in 2019, scallop numbers have grown in this area during the scalloping season.

Do I Need a Florida fishing license to scallop?

Unless you’re on a charter, you’ll need a fishing license. When you join any High Octane Fishing boat, you are covered by a Florida Fish and Wildlife saltwater fishing license

Conclusion – Hiring a Local Guide

This is a critical subject because it can make or ruin your scalloping trip. Hiring a guide is one of the best ways to go scalloping for both visitors and people unfamiliar with this form of fishing. Local experience and research are required to know where to go for a day of scalloping, and local guides are your key.

When looking for a guide, look for one who is a USCG-licensed captain, has years of experience in your desired location, and has several reliable reviews that can be accessed on third-party websites.

Chris is a Midwest Transplant that has lived in South Florida since 1999. While he likes to remain active and is an avid sports enthusiast, he's become our go-to provider of reviews of any establishment serving food and booze!

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