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Scallops make comeback; harvesting ban remains


© St. Petersburg Times, published April 6, 2001

HOMOSASSA -- The bar graph projected on the white screen in a conference room at Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park on Wednesday could not have been more profound.

Since 1996, two years after the state banned scallop harvesting, the shellfish population here increased from an average of three per 600 square meters to 243 over the same area.

Time to break out the garlic butter, right?

Not so fast, state officials told the audience. Though bay scallops have rebounded to levels not seen since the 1980s, researchers said an additional year is needed to make sure the population is as vibrant as it seems.

Scalloping was banned in 1994 after the numbers dropped precipitously, probably because of water pollution and unrestricted harvesting.

The exact cause for the upswing is also not known, but researchers say an extensive restocking program is a likely reason. That program has run out of funding.

The state's cautious approach sent waves of rancor through the audience. Many people expected to hear the state was ready to reopen scalloping this summer, a move that would provide a significant economic boost to Citrus County.

"Now that we have learned that the scallop population has rebounded, why wait another season?" asked Mary Craven, director of the county's tourism program. "The scallop life span is only a year anyway. Why not let us reap the economic benefit this year?"

It has been estimated that scalloping generated between $3-million and $5-million annually in tourism revenue for the county.

Visibly startled by the reaction, state officials said another underwater survey in June is needed to ensure that the population spike was not a fluke.

If harvesting is allowed this summer, they said, the shellfish could be wiped out before they have a chance to spawn.

That could prove deadly for not only the scallops in the Homosassa and Crystal River areas but all along the Gulf Coast because the larvae from one region can help restock another.

Logistics may also prevent any action this year. The public comments will not be presented to the commission's oversight panel until May and then a full recommendation will not be ready until next fall, said Bill Teehan of the Division of Marine Fisheries.

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