Scallop surge may end ban
By ALEX LEARY, Times Staff Writer
CRYSTAL RIVER -- When the water is calm and the sky clear, Jerry Adcock can see thousands of them from his boat.
"There's so many scallops you wouldn't believe it," Adcock, 58, said Friday morning, leaning against a black pickup truck at Pete's Pier.
But the shellfish that line the bay in Crystal River and Homosassa are off-limits. It's enough to drive a man crazy.
"They're good eatin'," Adcock said. "Kind of like lobster."
Fortunately for Adcock, and just about everyone else with taste buds, the state is preparing to lift the seven-year ban on recreational scallop harvesting because of a dramatic population surge.
"There would have to be extraordinary circumstances for this not to take place," said Lee Schlesinger, spokesman for the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, whose governing board meets this week in Tallahassee.
"The scallops are there and we are doing what we said we would do."
Scalloping is currently permitted from the Alabama state line to the Suwannee River. If the new rule is approved, the western part of the Panhandle would be closed because of a dwindling supply.
Harvesting would be allowed from the Mexico Beach Canal, just west of the Bay-Gulf county line, to the Pasco-Hernando county line, near Aripeka. The season would last from July 1 through Sept. 10.
Recreational harvesters are limited to 2 gallons of scallops in the shell, or 1 pint of meat, per day. No more than 10 gallons of whole scallops, or a half-gallon of meat, may be aboard a boat at any time.
Before the ban, enacted in 1995, scalloping was a major attraction in Citrus County, boosting restaurants, motels and the like.
Boats were so thick, "It was like a small city out there," said Crystal River resident Rod Bruce, who fondly remembers diving in on a hot day in search of the sweet and tender scallops.
"It was like having the Super Bowl in this area," said Mike Glaum, 30, a marine technician working on an outboard motor at Pete's Pier. "Every weekend, this place was crowded."
It was like that along the entire gulf coast at one time. But as Northerners discovered Florida and construction boomed, scallop habitats were threatened.
Increased coastal runoff, full of nutrients and pollutants, led to more turbidity in the water, which decreased sunlight to the bottom of the bay.
"Sea grass needs that sunlight," said Bill Arnold, a scientist for the Florida Marine Research Institute. "As water becomes more cloudy, sea grass becomes more confined to shallower and shallower areas and the acreage is reduced."
In the late 1950s, scallops began to disappear from Charlotte Harbor, south of Sarasota. The trend slowly worked its way north, diminishing Tampa Bay in the late 1960s and Anclote in the late 1970s.
Citrus waters began to show signs of stress in the late 1980s. Between 1993 and 1998, no more than 15 scallops per 600 square meters were counted in Citrus County, with most years hovering around 5.
The ban may have disappointed many, but since then, the numbers have rebounded significantly. Now there are 299 scallops over the same area, according to the annual census Arnold conducts.
In 2001, Homosassa had more scallops than any other area in the state.
What triggered the remarkable resurgence is an open debate. It could be that the ban allowed the population to rebuild. It could be the thousands of hatchery-born scallops researchers dumped into the bay. Or it could be neither of those factors and simply a natural occurrence.
Whatever the case, scallops are back in force. "Reopening this will give us a real shot in the arm," said Mary Craven, the county's tourism director. "It is a whole lot of fun."
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