The recreational harvesting season has come to a close, and scallop researchers will begin conducting underwater surveys in several locations.
Locally, the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute will assess the abundance of adult and juvenile bay scallops along the Steinhatchee and Homosassa rivers, which flow into the Gulf of Mexico.
According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation, researchers will monitor roughly 10 sites along the west coast of Florida, with 10 to 20 survey stations at each site.
The prime location consists of sea grass beds located in areas with depths of up to 10 feet. Two divers will follow a 300-meter line while counting all scallops within a meter-wide area.
Captain Mike Farmer, who runs a charter boat out of the River Haven Mariana, said he noticed a number of changes this season.
He said that “this was a good, full season of clear waters,” with an increase in charter customers and scallop size.
The FWC sees an increase in saltwater recreational licenses being sold each year, according to Amanda Nalley, a FWC public information specialist. The 2013-2014 fiscal year saw a growth of 5 percent.
The scallops used to flourish on both the Gulf and Atlantic coasts, but now the species only appear in isolated populations scattered along the northwest coast of Florida.
Their short lifespan and sensitivity to local conditions such as habitat loss, water quality and predation leaves the scallops at more risk to population decrease.
According to Sarah Stephenson, an assistant research scientist with the FWC, the pre-season abundances in the Steinhatchee and Homosassa were about half the size of the 2013 pre-season population.
The average number of scallops per square meter will place the populations into one of three categories: stable, vulnerable or collapsed. In order to be classified as stable, the local scallops must produce enough offspring to replenish itself or receive offspring from a neighboring population.
“In our annual reports we look at the year to year trends to determine if there are more or fewer adults available during spawning season,” Stephenson said. “If there are more adults or recruits observed then chances are the next year’s population may increase.”
Brian Smith, the captain of Big Bend Charters, said he thinks the species is simply under too much pressure from the lack of restriction.
“There are so many people on the water that it’s bound to harm the population,” he said.
The captain attributes the “bigger than normal scallops” to being old and left over from the 2013 season.
Anyone who took part in this year’s season can assist researchers by indicating where they harvested, how many scallops they collected and how long it took.