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Steinhatchee scalloping to suffer

Steinhatchee, Fla. residents help clean up hurricane damage (Aileyahu Shanes/WUFT News)
Steinhatchee, Fla. residents help clean up hurricane damage (Aileyahu Shanes/WUFT News)

Steinchatchee: a small, quiet riverside town known for its scalloping. It’s now flooded, muddy and littered with debris. Sludge normally trapped on the river’s bottom has muddied the crystal-clear water, now spotted with dead fish, furniture and vegetation.

But Jody Griffis, owner of the Steinhatchee Marina at Deadman Bay, said the small community of about 600 strong has come together to get the marina and the entire town of Steinhatchee back on track.

“This community is phenomenal,” Griffis said. “It’s small, we may bicker amongst ourselves, but when it comes down to brass task, we are a community, and we serve each other as such.”

But the town won’t recover everything, especially when it comes to its scalloping businesses, the focal point of Steinhatchee’s economy.

“It’s more tourists that come in,” said Christie Calhoun, who works at the Steinchatchee Marina. “It’s huge. It’s our biggest revenue generator for the area.”

And because of Hurricane Idalia, the town’s largest event of Scallop Season was ruined.

“Scallop Season started here June 15,” said Crystal Pesek, owner of Crystal Sea Charters in Steinhatchee and vice president of the Steinhatchee chamber of commerce, “and it runs through Labor Day weekend. This was our last big boom. Scallops were bountiful and plentiful out here.”

She said people travel from all over to enjoy the festivities.

“Jacksonville, Georgia, South Florida, they’ll come up here to Steinhatchee,” Pesek said. “It’s their big getaway time too, and families want to get together. And now, they’re going to look at this hurricane. Who's going to want to come here? But maybe they’ll want to help clean up.”

Idalia drove in about seven feet of storm surge into Steinhatchee. Now, scalloping is impossible.

“With the hurricane, when it came through, it churned up all the water,” Pesek said. “You see all the mud and sludge that is everywhere here? The same thing happened out there [in the water.] The visibility is going to be very poor, and you’re not going to be able to see the scallops.”

But it’s not just the scalloping charters that are affected by the cancelation of Scallop Season’s last hurrah.

“We had a huge sale which brings in a lot,” Calhoun said. “The last big sale that we did, one day we did $19,000. We have a lot more stuff in the retail store that we had put on sale, and I’ve been advertising, and people have been hitting on it for the last week. Now, that’s going to kill us.”

But no matter the adversity, Pesek and the Steinhatchee faithful are still in high spirits.

“I’m always so thankful every day that when I get up, I’m here in this community,” Pesek said. “We’re grateful. We’re grateful, and we’re thankful.”

For Captain Griffis and the Steinhatchee Marina, there’s a lot of work to be done.

“Our kitchen and our bay house are going to take some time,” Griffis said. “We lost a lot of equipment. Some of this equipment is backordered. We’re going to be down for a while. Retail, we’ll maintain; that’s our bread and butter right now.”

But it’s a long road ahead for Pesek and her scalloping business.

“I readjust my boat,” Pesek said. “I take all the scallop gear off. I have time to clean my boat. I have time to get all my fishing gear together. In a way, you have time to prepare for the next season of what you are going to be doing.”

She predicts her business won’t be up and running again for a couple of months. But she is thankful for the bountiful scallop season Steinhatchee experienced this summer and the community that will be by her side along the way.

Aileyahu is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.