Scalloping in Florida’s Nature Coast: Why and How
July 1 began scallop season for recreational harvesters in Citrus and Hernando Counties. Most of us are recreational harvesters because this simply means we do not fish for a living. It is illegal to harvest bay scallops commercially in 2018, probably because they were overfished. In 1992, the commercial scallop harvest was zero! 35 years earlier, 400,000 pounds of bay scallops were harvested by commercial scallopers around Florida.
Several groups worked together to restore the population of the Bay Scallop, Argopecten irradians, and by 2005 most areas showed a healthy level. Today, recreational scalloping is one of the most popular summer activities for visitors to Florida’s Nature Coast. If you haven’t tried it, you really should!
This year, in addition to Citrus and Hernando Counties, you can scallop in all state waters south of the Hernando – Pasco county line and north of the Anclote Key Lighthouse in northern Pinellas County, and all waters of the Anclote River from July 20-29. This is the first year Pasco County state waters have been opened to recreational scallop harvest and there is quite a buzz amongst local guides and residents about where the most scallops will be found.
Scalloping, or the recreational harvesting of the bay scallop, is one of the easiest activities for people of all ages to enjoy in the heat of summer.
It only requires wading or swimming in an area with thick seagrass beds, some goggles or a mask to help you see underwater, a Florida saltwater fishing license, and a net to keep your scallops in.
It is very relaxing to swim with the fishes through the seagrass beds. You are likely to encounter starfish, fish, crabs, and all sorts of various sea creatures. It felt like swimming in a giant aquarium to me – a nature aquarium.
Scallops are found in water from 4 feet to 10 feet deep. If you get tired of floating and swimming, just stand up or go to the boat for a break.
When you spot a scallop, just bend down and pick it up. Yes, it is that easy.
If you like scallops in the restaurant, just imagine how delicious they are when you caught them today. The fresh bay scallop is a delicate morsel of heavenly goodness. They can be eaten raw, as ceviche, fried, on the half-shell, broiled or as part of a pasta and sauce dish. Any way you eat bay scallops, they are really, really, really good.
If you don’t like seafood or scallops, give them to a friend or neighbor. You will raise your standing a lot with a gift like this.
How to Scallop
First, decide if you are going to go in your own vessel or hire a captain. Both of these methods have their advantages, which are explained below.
Scalloping Adventure on Your Own
On your own, you need to have a Florida saltwater fishing license for everyone who will be participating. You can get one here or at your local bait shop. The cost is $17 annually for Florida residents. Non-residents can purchase a saltwater fishing license for $17 for 3 days, $30 for 7 days or $47 for a year. There is a $2.25 surcharge per license to buy online.
You need a boat and the ability to find the scallops from your boat. Boats can be rented from local marinas who can also assist you with maps and suggested locations, but you are the one who has to get there.
You need a dive flag. A dive flag MUST be displayed in the water whenever you scallop. This protects you by helping other boaters to see where swimmers are located.
You need a dive mask or goggles and a snorkel. I also recommend swimmers fins because they help you move through the water quickly. Sometimes scallops will decide to flee the harvester’s hand or net. It’s easier to catch them when you have fins.
You need a net bag to keep your harvest in while you are in the water.
You want a 5-gallon bucket of saltwater on the boat to keep your catch in.
You want a LOT of water and sunscreen. Stay hydrated and protect yourself from sunburn.
You may want snacks on the boat. It is nice to take a break now and then, get some nourishment and go back in for more.
You want a cooler to keep your fresh-caught scallops in.
You may want to bring a shucking knife and gloves if you plan to get the scallop meat out of the shells yourself.
You can choose when and where you will go out, as well as invite as many or as few people as you want to join your adventure. The tribe can be half the fun!
Scalloping Adventure with a Captain
The biggest advantages of hiring a captain for scalloping include they provide the vessel and the experience to get you where the scallops are quickly and efficiently. You just enjoy the ride.
Additionally, when you take a chartered vessel in the state of Florida to fish or scallop, the captain of the vessel has fishing licenses for all participants.
The captain will also provide the dive flag and make sure it is displayed. Often, they have fins, goggles, snorkels, and a bucket to keep the scallops in while you are on the water.
Some charters include snacks, water, and optional drinks. Some do not.
Some captains will clean your scallop meat for you as part of their services. Make sure you know your captain’s level of service and are comfortable with it before you book. Ask questions.
You will need to go early in the morning with most charters. This is truly because the captain wants to get you out before the crowds (it does get crowded, especially on weekends). If you don’t want to get up at the crack o’dawn, charters may not be the way to go. Please note that some charters can leave later.
You may have to charter the whole boat, which is fine if you have 4 or more people who are going, but if you are just one or two people, you may want to look for a charter that lets you pay per person. You will have fewer options about when you leave but you get to pay per person instead of per boat.
You will need to plan to bring your own sunscreen and possibly your own water and snacks. You may need to bring your own fins and masks. Ask questions so you are properly prepared for your adventure!
You will want to bring a cooler with ice for your harvest.
You may want to bring a shucking knife if you plan to clean your own catch.
You should plan to tip your captain above the cost of the trip. You don’t have to, but it is customary.
What to Do with your Scallops
You can bring your fresh-caught scallops to several local restaurants who will gladly cook your catch and provide sides for a full meal for a price. Be sure to call ahead when you plan to use a restaurant so they can prepare for your arrival.
You can cook them for yourself at home or at a local park. Here are some recipes for bay scallops below:
Mix one cup lime juice, one cup lemon juice, one cup of chopped cilantro, four finely chopped and seeded Serrano peppers, three finely chopped cloves of garlic, one coarsely chopped red onion, one tablespoon sea salt, and ground black pepper to taste in a zipper-style bag.
Two hours before serving, add in about two pounds of scallops.
Drain away excess juices and assemble the ceviche over salad greens or avocado half.
Touch everything off with a garnish of cilantro leaves.
*Recipe courtesy of Tommy Thompson.
SIMPLY DELICIOUS SCALLOPS*
Sauté 3 pounds Florida scallops in 2 tablespoons melted butter in a large skillet over medium heat.
Stir until opaque, about 1 minute. Overcooking makes the texture rubbery.
Remove scallops from skillet and set aside.
Wipe out skillet, then melt 1/2 cup butter over medium-low heat; add 2 cloves garlic, and salt and pepper to taste.
Stir for 3 minutes and add scallops.
Serve immediately over prepared pasta of your choice, such as angel hair.
Garnish with fresh dill and season with freshly ground pepper.
*Recipe courtesy of Fresh from Florida Seafood.
Scalloping in Florida’s Nature Coast is an Amazing Experience: Just Do It
There are a lot of ways to go scalloping, from frugal (wade out in the gulf) to top-shelf (charter your Captain) and in-between (take your own boat or better yet – join a group charter). Whatever way best fits your budget, you are sure to enjoy the experience of floating in the Gulf, hunting for each scallop and then bagging your catch. And then consuming these delectable gems.
There are several scallop tour operators on NatureCoaster.com. Click here to check the Scalloping Tours listings. Then just give one a call and book your trip before September 24. In Pasco County, call now to get in between July 20 and 29. If you want to rent a boat and get out on your own, click here for Nature Coast Marinas and Boat Rentals. Please feel free to post your scalloping adventure pictures on our new NatureCoasters Facebook Group here.