Each year during the summer months thousands of people flock to Florida’s Nature Coast to enjoy the age-old pastime of scalloping. Some people wade for them, others snorkel. No matter the method of collection, Florida’s bay scallops keep people coming back for more of these succulent morsels. Baked, grilled, fried, sauteed or steamed, once plated they’ll have fans begging for more.
The wonderful thing about scalloping is that it requires no experience or special gear, but it does require a valid Florida saltwater fishing license. Polarized sunglasses can help waders spot scallops lying in the grass, while a mask and snorkel will be of most benefit to swimmers. Gloves are another handy item to have to prevent fingers from getting pinched while collecting these delicious marine bivalve mollusks. Snorkelers and divers are required to have a regulation Divers-down flag displayed while in the water.
Not all scallop seasons are created equal. One of the best tools out there for gauging scallop populations is provided by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission. Their annual research provides scallop seekers with a fairly accurate forecast of what each season’s harvest will be. The current harvest zone for 2013 is from the west bank of the Mexico Beach canal in Bay county eastward to the Pasco-Hernando county line. Harvest zones and harvesting dates are subject to change, so always check the FWC website for updates.
Next to eating them, the best part about scalloping is having fun out on the water. It’s like a treasure hunt amid sea grasses and amazing sea life that many people only see in an aquarium setting. But spotting a scallop doesn’t necessarily mean it’s in the bag; those crafty little mollusks can actually use their muscles to propel themselves away from predators. They might not get far, but they can get enough of a head-start to hide themselves amongst the grasses and leave one scratching their head in disbelief. Practice makes perfect, however, and there’s no better way to spend the day than hunting scallops.
Popular destinations for scalloping include Port St. Joe, Apalachicola, Cedar Key, Crystal River, Steinhatchee and Weeki Wachee, but for those with a boat or a guide, many more options become available. Before heading out to catch your limit of scallops check out Jim McClellan’s website for a humorous look at “How to Stalk and Catch the Elusive Wild Scallop.” Most importantly, have fun and stay safe this scalloping season.