PORT ST. JOE — The extra TLC given to the St. Joseph Bay scallop population the past two years appears to be reaping dividends.
The survey of the adult population of scallops, posted last week by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, shows that the current population is nearly four times that of last year and nearly twice the average of the past six years, an apparent testament to the restoration project started in 2016.
"Biologists conducted 100 transects in St. Joseph Bay to measure bay scallop density and distribution throughout the bay," said FWC biologist Jennifer Granneman. "Scallop densities in St. Joseph Bay have steadily increased since 2016, which may be due, in part, to the ongoing restoration efforts in the bay lead by FWRI (Fish and Wildlife Research Institute) biologists.
"Scallop restoration efforts in the bay will continue in order to help move the population to a 'stable' population status."
The population remains “vulnerable,” the FWC category for adult populations of between two and 20 scallops per square meter.
During this year’s survey, researchers found 8.1 scallops per square meter, approximately 1.2 square yards.
That is more than three times the density found during last year’s survey and eight times higher than two years ago, when the population was deemed “collapsed,” with less than one scallop per square meter.
This year’s numbers look even better when compared to surveys going back to 2012.
Since 2012, the most abundant scallop survey of the bay found 7.7 scallops per square meter.
The average number per year since 2012, according to the FWC, was 4.8, just over half the survey numbers of this year.
And that would seem to indicate a restoration effort begun in 2016 in the wake of the collapse of the population has had an impact.
The restoration project is ongoing, as researchers indicated it would be in 2016, citing the need for a multi-year program which enlisted the community in the effort. As part of the efforts, FWC with the help of community volunteers have collected more than 6,000 scallops, caged for protection during spawning and then released.
Some have also been sent to a hatchery to spawn.
The most recent “scallop rodeo” held earlier this month resulted in the collection of just under 1,500.
Those scallops collected this year are caged in a “No Entry” zone in a south-central area of the bay.
It is against the law to enter the zone.
In addition to the collections, local volunteer “scallop sitters” have “fostered” more than 4,000 of the scallops collected in prior years in cages, providing the protection during spawning.
Scallop harvest season in St. Joseph Bay began Friday and continues through Sept. 30, the latest starting, and longest by days, scallop harvest season in Florida.