Perhaps you have enjoyed a scallop dish at a restaurant recently. But what do you really know about this little crustacean? For one thing, you can be pretty sure they weren’t caught anywhere near the First Coast – commercial scallop hunting is banned in Florida. Restaurant folks will tell you the best scallops are harvested well offshore in an area between Maine and New Jersey.
If you want to go hunting for scallops, there’s good news – Florida does allow recreational scallop hunting with some restrictions. The season this year is from July 1 to September 25, but these dates are subject to change. If there is an abundance of bay scallops, it has been known to start earlier, and if there is a shortage, it may close earlier. Bay scallops many years ago were found from the southeastern coast of Florida and around the state up to Pensacola, but now they are only found on the Gulf Coast of Florida. Fortunately, that area has had large scallop populations for several years now.
Captain Joanna Roe at Double J Adventures on Crystal River, describes scallop hunting as “like an Easter egg hunt underwater.” Hunters snorkel in areas of seagrass where the scallop’s brownish/green shell helps it blend into the grass. But its row of blue eyes gives away the hiding place. During the season, Roe said most of the charter boats turn to scallop hunting exclusively – the hunting has become so popular.
Tracey Newton owns the Tampa-based website scallophunter.com. It has everything you could ever want to know about scallop hunting. There is information about dozens of charter boats available for hunting scallops, including boats at Crystal River, Steinhatchee, Homassassa and more.
“It’s beautiful in the water and since it’s summer, it helps you cool off,” Newton says. “I love scallops, I love to cook them, I love to eat them.”