Scallop resurgence good sign of bay health
Our little blue-eyed scallop friends’ numbers are surging in the bays.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Research Institute has issued a report on scallop populations in Southwest Florida. It’s a good report, both for the little mollusks and for our bay waters.
For us, scallops are the watery version of canaries in a mine shaft.
Good water quality, good scallop population.
Bad air in a mine, dead canary.
FWRI scientists do “hard science” to come up with scallop estimates. Well, it’s actual counts, and the definition of “hard” comes from eliciting folks to snorkel in seagrass beds. Whatever. Snorkelers swim along lines, called transects, and count scallops.
A recent survey ran from Pine Island Sound in Lee County to our south to St. Andrews Bay off the Florida Panhandle to the north.
Good news for us: “We found a record number of scallops at the station nearest the area known as the
Kitchen in Sarasota Bay in July 2008, scientists reported. That’s the area in Anna Maria Sound just south of some of the Cortez fish houses in the bay. “The average number per transect increased dramatically from the previous year as well as the distribution among stations.
“This site was most improved; transitioning from a collapsed population to a healthy one with the total number of scallops observed increasing from two to 2,499.”
Now, you gotta remember that scallop harvesting isn’t permitted in our part of the world. Don’t go trying to gather the little guys and girls for a meal. But do enjoy the fact that they’re back.
On the whole, statewide scallop populations were both more abundant and widespread in 2008,” FWRI scientists said. “St. Andrew Bay and Pine Island Sound were the only two sites classified as collapsed and remain areas of concern. Historically, both of these sites contained abundant scallop populations, and it’s our goal to re-establish these estuaries closer to their historic levels.”
Some local scallop history
Ben Green has written a wonderful history of the village of Cortez titled “Finestkind.” It’s still in print and available at the Florida Maritime Museum in Cortez. If you don’t have it, you need it.
Green writes: “In general, the men of Cortez fished and women worked at home, but there were times when the women spent as much time on the water as the men did. That was particularly true during the scalloping season. Until pollution closed Sarasota Bay to scalloping in the 1970s, many women in Cortez went scalloping every day during the summer, for 30 years in some cases, and brought home sizeable contributions to their family’s income.
“Armed with an old No. 2 washtub and a wooden scallop box — a square plywood box with a sheet of plate glass in the bottom so they could see scallops on the floor — the women would pole [skiffs] out to The Kitchen in old skiffs or little rowboats. They would wade through the waist-deep water, pushing their scallop box in front of them and dragging their washtub behind them. When they’d spot a scallop buried in the sand, they’d reach down, grab it and flip it into the washtub. Hours later, after filling several washtubs, they would pole back to Cortez and sit hunched over the bucket for hours more, prying open the shells, scooping out the scallops, and cleaning and packing them in quart jars. They’d sell the scallops to fish markets or to restaurants for the going price.”
And get this: “For many years, the price was 14 cents a quart.”
Market price for a quart of scallops today is about $16.
And most of them are from China.
There will be more about the following as the event nears, but mark your calendar for the second annual Sarasota Bay Great Scallop Search organized by Sarasota Bay Watch and set for Saturday, Aug. 8, to launch from the Sarasota Outboard Club on City Island in Sarasota. That’s just across the south bridge from Longboat Key, and a left turn toward Mote Marine.
“Sarasota Bay Watch is seeking water enthusiasts and supporters of marine life to spend a few hours searching for scallops at pre-determined locations,” according to the group. “The event is free and includes a Sarasota Bay Watch T-shirt and lunch. Participants must bring snorkel gear and are asked to provide their own boat and crew. Sarasota Bay Watch will provide any other necessary equipment and training.”
The event starts with a captains’ meeting at 8:30 a.m., and will conclude at noon.
To register call 941-953-5333, or go to www.sarasotabaywatch.org, but be aware, like the scallop population they seek, participants are to be limited.