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Current Restoration Project

Two dark cages underwater in shallow water.

In 2016, FWRI researchers began a 10-year project to restore bay scallops to self-sustaining levels in Florida’s Panhandle. The project is funded by restoration money set aside after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and is intended to increase recreational fishing opportunities in the Florida Panhandle. The goal of the project is to both increase depleted scallop populations in some bays and reintroduce scallops in other suitable areas from which scallops have disappeared. Restoration efforts are focused on coastal estuaries within the Florida Panhandle that have been divided into 5 regions, as shown on the map. 

FWRI scientists are using a 3-pronged approach to enhance bay scallop populations within targeted restoration areas in the Florida Panhandle: 

  1. Install cages holding groups of adult bay scallops
    Since the project began, FWRI scientists have worked with community members in Port St. Joe to collect scallops prior to the opening of the scallop season and place them in cages in in St. Joseph, St. Andrews Bay, and St. George Sound. Throughout the 10-year project, these cages have held both wild and hatchery-produced scallops.  Placing scallops in cages protects them from predators and scalloping humans while also increasing the likelihood that scallops will successfully produce offspring during spawning season. In addition, FWRI scientists are currently asking the communities of Bay, Gulf, and Franklin Counties to help restore scallops.  If you live in one of these counties and you are interested in helping to restore scallops in these bays, you can help by volunteering to become a Scallop Sitter. August 2024-January 2025 will be the final season to participate as this project comes to an end.
  1. Release of hatchery-reared bay scallop larvae
    Throughout this project, scientists have worked with a commercial hatchery to spawn adult scallops collected from Florida waters. Bay scallop larvae were collected from the hatchery and released into the areas targeted for restoration. Bay scallop larvae are typically vulnerable to predation, starvation, and may drift away from ideal settlement areas.  This process helps to increase the number of larvae that survive to settle and eventually develop into adults. Learn more about the life cycle on our bay scallop information page.
  1. Release of hatchery-reared or naturally-harvested juvenile bay scallops (spat)
    Researchers collect juvenile scallops using settlement collectors The collectors attract free-floating scallop larvae, which then settle on the material and grow out for two months. These spat are then collected and grown out for use in cages. Additionally, some juvenile bay scallops, or spat, from the hatchery have been reserved to be released into areas with low densities of bay scallops. This process could potentially reduce predation pressure on small scallops until a minimum size of ~25mm is achieved.

Evaluating harvest of bay scallops

The recreational harvest of bay scallops will be assessed by FWRI researchers to help them evaluate harvest pressure and the population size of bay scallops in the Florida Panhandle.  In the beginning of this project, scientists monitored harvest efforts in Gulf, Franklin, Taylor, and Dixie counties. Now, as the project comes to an end, monitoring efforts are concentrated in Gulf County. The scientists use 2 primary methods during the recreational harvesting season to evaluate harvest efforts:

A man in an FWC shirt stands on a boat and looks through binoculars.
  1. Boat counts
    Scientists count boats in areas open to bay scallop harvest by conducting surveys on the water.  Additionally, researchers count trailers in the parking lots of marinas near areas open to bay scallop harvest.
  2. Surveys of scallopers
    Scientists conduct shore-based creel surveys, which are interviews conducted at the dock as people come back after a day of scalloping. Surveying scallopers helps FWRI scientists estimate how many people participate in scalloping and how many scallops are harvested. These scalloper interviews also help biologists generate population models and identify long-term trends.  

Find more information about recreational bay scallop harvesting on our saltwater fishing regulations page.


How will FWRI scientists know if these restoration efforts work to help enhance bay scallop populations in the Panhandle?

Researchers continually monitor bay scallop populations within the Florida Panhandle to determine whether their restoration efforts are succeeding. They monitor adult bay scallops in the targeted restoration regions using diving surveys. Surveys are done at randomly selected sites in the seagrass areas in which bay scallops are typically found. Learn more about the history and use of scallop surveys on our abundance surveys page.