Florida's bay scallops (Argopectin irradians) have been called the potato-chips of the marine ecosystem – everything loves to eat them. Short-lived and widely consumed by a large array of predators – including humans – bay scallop numbers can fluctuate from year to year. Declining populations in many areas of the Gulf Coast prompted this effort, called the Scallop Sitter Project that began in 2016 to restore bay scallops in Florida’s panhandle. Overall goals of this project are to increase scallop abundance and recreational fishing opportunities in the Florida Panhandle. The Scallop Sitter Project is a volunteer program that involves local community members in the ongoing scallop restoration efforts of Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute biologists.
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 objectives of the project are to increase depleted scallop populations in some bays and reintroduce scallops in other suitable areas from which scallops have disappeared. Restoration efforts are focused on coastal estuaries within the Florida Panhandle.
FWRI biologists collect scallops before the opening of the scallop season and place them in cages in an exclusion zone in St. Joseph Bay that is protected from harvest. In addition, every year adult scallops are transported from St. Joseph Bay to a hatchery which then provides scientists with juvenile scallops the following year. Placing scallops in cages protects them from predators while also increasing the likelihood that scallops will successfully produce offspring during spawning season. In addition, FWRI biologists provide community volunteers with scallops to place in cages in St. Joseph and St. Andrew Bays. Volunteers maintain cages of scallops and report monthly survival and salinity data.
Scallop sitters attend annual workshops held in July to learn how to care for their cages of scallops.
Scallop sitter cages and scallops in buckets are distributed during scallop sitter workshops.
FWRI biologists place scallops in predator exclusion cages like these for restoration purposes.
Every month scallop sitters measure salinity using hydrometers and report their data to FWRI. Scallop sitters also clean their scallops and cages monthly.
These are juvenile bay scallops, called spat, from the scallop hatchery. Larvae settle out of the water column after approximately 10-14 days at 0.3mm.
Monitoring of bay scallop spat (juvenile bay scallops) settlement is done using spat collectors during the peak settlement period for bay scallops, from August through March. In addition, spat that settle on collectors are used for restoration purposes. Surveys of adult scallop abundance are conducted in the spring and fall by diving and counting scallops along a transect. Planting scallops in cages and maintaining scallops is done throughout the year. The scallop sitter project takes place from July through December each year. Monitoring of scallop harvest is done through aerial surveys and boat ramp intercepts during the scallop season, which is from July through September. Spawning and grow-out of scallops for restoration purposes takes place from August through April of each year.
Florida Fish and Wildlife’s Division of Marine Fisheries Management may use these modeling efforts to manage the recreational scallop fishery in Florida. The project began in April 2018 and is expected to end in December 2026. Funds from a Natural Resource Damage Assessment grant helped fund this project, which came from restoration money set aside after the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. If this project is successful, the model could be used to restore scallops in other areas of the state.