Scallop Restoration in the Florida Panhandle

By Jennifer Granneman

Bay scallops (Argopecten irradians) may have a short life, typically living for about a year, but they play a big role in the economies of many coastal Floridian towns, like Steinhatchee and Port St. Joe.  In 2016, the scallop team within the molluscan fisheries group began a 10-year project to restore bay scallops to self-sustaining levels in Florida’s Panhandle.  The project is funded by restoration money set aside after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and is intended to increase recreational fishing opportunities in the Florida Panhandle.  The goal of the project is to increase depleted scallop populations and reintroduce scallops in suitable areas from which scallops have disappeared.

Restoration efforts are focused on coastal estuaries within the Florida Panhandle that have been divided into five regions, as shown on the map.  Bay scallop populations in the Florida Panhandle are currently classified as ‘collapsed’ with population densities below 0.01 scallops per m2.  In St. Joseph Bay, this collapse may be due in part to a red tide event that occurred from winter 2015-spring 2016.  The red tide resulted in a lack of recruitment in 2016, leading to a sharp population decline.  Scallop restoration efforts were primarily focused on St. Joseph Bay in 2016-2017.  This year, restoration efforts will expand to St. Andrew Bay and St. George (regions 3 and 5).

The scallop team is planning to use a three-step approach to enhance bay scallop populations within targeted restoration areas in the Florida Panhandle by: (1) installing cages holding groups of adult bay scallops, (2) releasing hatchery-reared or naturally-harvested juvenile bay scallops (spat) at restoration sites, and (3) releasing hatchery-reared bay scallop larvae.  Each year, the scallop team collects adult scallops from St. Joseph Bay and brings them to a hatchery which provides juvenile scallops the following year.  These hatchery scallops are then placed in cages in a no-entry zone in St. Joseph Bay.  Placing scallops in cages protects them from predators and increases the likelihood that scallops will successfully produce offspring during the spawning season.  Beginning in 2017, scallop collectors were placed in St. Joseph Bay and St. Andrew Bay to collect wild scallop spat.  The spat are raised at the Florida State University Coastal and Marine Laboratory and once they reach a size of 30mm they will be planted in cages in their respective bays.  Last year we placed 2,500 wild and hatchery-produced scallops in cages in St. Joseph Bay.

In addition to traditional approaches to restoration, our vision for restoring scallops also includes educating the public about our ongoing restoration projects and asking them to be contributing partners in these efforts.  To that end, we have recruited 200 volunteers to help restore scallops in St. Joseph Bay and St. Andrew Bay.  In April, we will provide scallops and predator exclusion cages to these volunteers at workshops held in Panama City and Port St. Joe which will be hosted by our partners at Sea Grant.  Our volunteers, or ‘Scallop Sitters’, will place their cages with scallops off privately-owned docks, or, if they have a boat, they will place these cages in the bay.  We will give a webinar to discuss this project and provide training for our ‘Scallop Sitters’ through the FWC webinar series on April 16.  Volunteers that are unable to attend our workshops in April will be able to view this webinar and participate in our scallop restoration program. We hope that by partnering with the community we will increase our chances of successful restoring scallops to stable levels (>0.1 scallops/m2) in St. Joseph Bay and St. Andrew Bay.  If you have questions about the program or want to get involved, please email us at bayscallops@myfwc.com.

If you would like more information about this restoration program, check out these links: http://myfwc.com/research/saltwater/mollusc/bay-scallops/restoration/current-projects/

http://myfwc.com/research/saltwater/mollusc/bay-scallops/restoration/help-restore/

FWC promotional video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kBC478TnbWc

Panhandle outdoor show: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uiFhbA7KONU