ARIPEKA - Gov. Rick Scott announced an early start to recreational scallop season, which begins today, up two days from the original start date of Monday.
Bay scallops may only be harvested in Gulf of Mexico state waters (from shore to nine nautical miles) from the Pasco-Hernando County line near Aripeka (latitude 28 degrees, 26.016 minutes North) to the west bank of the Mexico Beach Canal in Bay County (longitude 85 degrees, 25.84 minutes West), according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
The last day of the season will be Sept. 24.
"Harvesting bay scallops is a family friendly activity that boosts the local economy in areas where harvest is open," Ken Wright, Chairman of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said in a release. "Opening the bay scallop season two days early, on a weekend rather than a weekday, and on the weekend before the Fourth of July will positively impact the communities and businesses that depend on bay scalloping while providing additional recreational opportunities for Florida's residents and visitors."
It is illegal to possess bay scallops on waters outside open harvest areas. It is also illegal to land scallops outside open harvest areas, according to the FWC.
For example, it would be legal to take scallops from waters off the Hernando County coast, but it would be illegal to dock your boat in Pasco County with the scallop catch onboard.
The law permits bay scallops to be harvested by hand, landing or dip net, according to the FWC.
A recreational saltwater fishing license is required to take or attempt to take saltwater fish, crabs, clams, lobster, marine plants or other saltwater organisms, with the exception of non-living seashells and lionfish with certain gear.
A Florida fishing license is required to land saltwater species in Florida regardless of whether they are caught in state or federal waters, and costs $17 for a 12-month saltwater fishing license.
"I asked FWC to open the recreational scallop season early," Gov. Scott said in a release. "This is an opportunity for Florida families and our visitors to enjoy our state's natural beauty, while catching the best scallops in the world. By moving the recreational date up, we'll provide families and visitors with an extra weekend to enjoy the scallop season, which will benefit jobs and families along the coast."
In or after 1995, the FWC (then the Florida Marine Fisheries Commission) modified bay scallop harvesting laws to eliminate all commercial fishing of bay scallops in state waters, reduced the length of recreational fishing season from nine months to two months and 10 days, and reduced the bag limit from five gallons to two gallons, according to a University of South Florida report.