By Austin Heil
In 2016, we began a 10-year project to restore bay scallops to self-sustaining levels in Florida’s Panhandle. The objective of the scallop restoration project is to enhance the public’s use and enjoyment of Florida’s natural resources by enhancing depleted scallop populations and reintroduction to suitable areas from which scallops have disappeared. The restoration work includes enhancing local scallop populations in targeted areas through a combination of the harvest and redistribution of naturally-occurring juvenile and adult scallops supplemented with stocking from a commercial scallop hatchery. In addition to traditional approaches to restoration, our vision for restoring scallops also includes educating the public on our ongoing restoration projects and asking them to be contributing partners in these efforts.
Since the project began in 2016, we have worked with community members in St. Joseph Bay to collect scallops prior to the opening of the scallop season and place them in cages in an exclusion zone protected from harvest. We are currently working on developing partnerships with interested NGOs, county officials, schools, and the private sector to help restore scallops in St. Joseph Bay and St. Andrew Bay. Our plan is to provide scallops and predator exclusion cages to community members in these areas prior to the 2018 scalloping season. Community members will hang their cages with scallops from privately owned docks or, if they have a boat, they can place these cages in the bay. Volunteers must be willing to clean the cages at least once each month as well as monitor the scallops. We hope that by partnering with the community next year we will increase our chances of successful restoring scallops to St. Joseph Bay and St. Andrew Bay.