Kent Maloney of Crystal River is kept quite busy running a home repair construction business during the day. But on occasion, and especially during the summer months, Maloney steals a few moments to enjoy the best reasons he lives in Florida.
It isn’t uncommon to catch Maloney preparing his 17-foot Sylvan water craft to launch out on the clear waters of the Gulf of Mexico. He is an avid sport fisherman, filling much of his limited free time enjoying the calm waters, snorkeling, spot fishing or just taking the boat out for a gentle glide.
But recently, Maloney’s mind has been on the harvesting of scallops, a yearly activity he looks forward to. And as the season officially opens on Saturday, three days earlier than usual, Maloney isn’t alone in his excitement.
The shallow waters off the Nature Coast are prime areas where bay scallops thrive. Usually found nestled in seagrass beds, scallops are easy to distinguish from other bottom-dwelling sea animals by their electric blue eyes.
During the season, which runs through Sept. 24, scallops can be harvested from the Pasco-Hernando county line to the Mexico Beach Canal in Bay County. Popular areas along the Nature Coast include Homossassa, Crystal River and Cedar Key where an abundance of these fresh Florida scallops make for an enjoyable and sometimes challenging experience.
Those who wish to take advantage of the season need a fishing permit and harvests are limited to 2 gallons of unshucked scallops per person per day or 1 pint of scallop meat per person per day.
Seasoned and novice scallopers will be out in full force, jamming the open waters and filling every available lodging option along the coast.
It is big business, said the owner of Shelly’s Seafood and Fish Market in Homosassa. Opening weekend is expected to bring hundreds of boaters to the shores, she said, so getting an early start is advisable.
Many predict a strong season with opening weekend to be exceptionally crowded, especially if the weather is good. And while patience is necessary during the season, the boost to the local economy is a welcomed benefit.
Those who have experienced scallop season on the Nature Coast know how to avoid the pitfalls. Many have already booked their lodging, which fills quickly, and have planned their trips around the more congested spots. Weekends are always busy. Those who have flexibility find the weekdays are much more relaxing as they harvest.
MacRae’s of Homosassa, located on Cherokee Way, is also bracing for the opening of the season. MacRae’s is a popular place to launch watercraft and return for a cold beverage while the scallops are shucked. Many travel between counties to launch at MacRae’s where live music and deck seating is a staple.
For locals like Maloney, avoiding the congested areas during the opening of the season is smart advice. He also suggested that those who plan to take advantage of the season make sure they plan their route, look out for high and low tides and abide by all safety and boating regulations.
“It isn’t just about the scallops,” he said. The experience of being out on the open water is amazing. There is no better way to learn about something than hands-on.
His favorite place to scallop is Ozello, he said, which is located between Homosassa and Crystal River. “It’s not so crowded with all the boats,” he said.
For more information about Bay scalloping season in Florida, including licensing and other requirements, visit http://myfwc.com/fishing/saltwater/recreational/bayscallops. For more information about lodging, charters and things to do in Hernando County, visit www.naturallyhernando.org.
Email Hernando Today correspondent Kim Dame at firstname.lastname@example.org.