Grab a snorkel, a swim mask and some fins — because recreational scallop season is right around the corner in Pasco County.
The annual 10-day bay scallop season this year in Pasco runs July 17 through July 26. It begins annually on the third Friday in July.
The county’s scallop zone encompasses 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.
The outdoor adventure activity of hunting for scallops is often referred to as an underwater Easter egg hunt.
Requiring only basic swimming skills, the idea is to float along the top of the water until you spot scallop shells in Florida seagrass beds lying several feet underwater, then you grab them by hand or with a landing or dip net.
For the county’s tourism agency — known as Florida’s Sports Coast — scalloping means big business.
Last year’s 10-day season generated more than a half-million dollars in economic impact, said Florida’s Sports Coast tourism director Adam Thomas.
It is the top leisure activity for the tourism agency, representing about 5% to 6% of all visitation during the fourth quarter in 2019, Thomas said.
Since Pasco is the southernmost county in Florida to offer a scallop season, Thomas said the bulk of non-residents partaking in the activity come from the state’s central and southeast regions.
As COVID-19 wiped out many tourism opportunities for Pasco the last several months, Thomas is poised to have scallop season soon underway. “Economically speaking, it’s a need right now,” he said.
Thomas has discovered scalloping in Pasco to be a more pleasant endeavor compared to trying the activity in more northern Florida counties.
A former tourism director for Citrus County, which also has a scallop season, Thomas explained the activity up north is “a little bit more exhausting” because it often requires divers to fight tides in 6 feet or 7 feet of water to collect a decent haul. “It takes a little bit longer to get to your count or your fill of the boat.”
In Pasco, however, he’s found success simply floating in water and catching big enough scallops reaching down 2 feet or 3 feet beneath the surface.
Explained Thomas, “It is so much easier here. You really don’t need fins, depending on the tide. You just float around, you can stand up. The water came up to my thighs, and sometimes my knees. Here, you just float around, let the tide do all your paddling for you.”
Florida’s Sports Coast communications manager Kolby Kucyk Gayson tried scalloping for the first time ever last year, in Pasco waters, of course.
Fair to say, it quickly lured her in.
“It is so much fun. I officially consider myself a Floridian, after having participated in that activity,” Gayson, a North Carolina native, said.
“It’s really a one-of-a-kind thing and it is so easy. It’s just addicting, especially if you’re competitive, like myself, you really could just stay there for hours, and look and scout and dive and grab, so it’s really the best.”
Thomas, too, harped on the competitive side of scalloping with friends and family. The tourism director mentioned he often challenges his wife to see who can go underwater the longest and collect the most scallops at once.
On that note, Thomas acknowledged the activity creates lasting memories and family bonds — being out on a boat, fishing for scallops, then cooking hauls for a meal together.
“It’s definitely a generational experience to have,” Thomas said. “My kids, they’re 6 and 8 years old right now, and they love it, they look forward to going scalloping every single year.”
For those who don’t have a personal vessel or boat or a saltwater fishing license, Florida’s Sports Coast officials recommend booking a half-day or full-day private guided charter with a local fishing captain.
“They will always put you right on top of the honey hole,” Gayson said. “They know the scallops, they know where they are and that’s half the fun of going out with a captain, is they really just automatically put you right into the experience.
“You don’t have to bring anything other than sunscreen and just a good attitude, because you’re guaranteed to have a fun time,” Gayson said.
Added Thomas: “We’ve got some of the best captains and guides that really cater to the consumer experience of scalloping, and not only scalloping, but also fishing and being on the water. Not everyone has a boat, but everyone has a means to a boat, and it starts with the Pasco County guides.”
The county’s bay scallop season is a newly rebooted venture.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) granted Pasco an annual scallop season last year, following a successful trial period in 2018.
Before that, it was nearly 25 years since residents and visitors could traverse Pasco waters for scallops.
That’s because the county’s bay scallop season was revoked in 1994 by the FWC, due to over-harvesting and depleted populations that couldn’t sustain an active recreational season.
As for having a scallop season longer than 10 days in the future, Thomas said it will probably take another couple years until the FWC grants the county that opportunity. The ideal scenario would be to someday offer upwards of a 30-day scallop season, he said.
“The (scallop) population has come back, but the sustainability of the population, that’s what the FWC is still trying to determine,” Thomas said.
In anticipation of continued growth in popularity with scalloping, Pasco County Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources has announced concentrated efforts to expand and improve county boat ramps to provide more trailer parking and overall better launch experiences for both local and out-of-town scallopers.
For more information, visit FLSportsCoast.com/things-to-do/scalloping or MyFWC.com/fishingsaltwater/recreational/bay-scallops.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Scalloping Safety and Fishing Regulations:
- Scallops must be landed within areas that are open to harvest
- Active scalloping area: All Pasco County waters and Pinellas County waters north of the Anclote Key Lighthouse, including all waters of the Anclote River
- Scallops may be collected by hand or with a landing or dip net
- Daily bag limit: 2 gallons whole bay scallops in shell or one pint of shucked per person; maximum of 10 gallons of scallops in shell or ½-gallon of bay scallop meat per vessel
- Scallops may not be possessed on waters outside of areas that are open to harvest
- Properly display a divers-down flag while in the water
Published July 1, 2020