Current Restoration Project
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:
- Install cages holding groups of 50 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 an exclusion zone in St. Joseph Bay that is protected from harvest. In addition, every year adult scallops are transported from St. Joseph Bay to a hatchery which then provides scientists with juvenile scallops the following year. There are currently about 50 cages holding both wild and hatchery-produced scallops in an exclusion zone in St. Joseph Bay. 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 around St. Joseph and St. Andrew Bays to help restore scallops. If you are a member of these communities and you are interested in helping to restore scallops in these bays, you can help by volunteering to become a ‘scallop-sitter’.
- Release of hatchery-reared bay scallop larvae
Scientists work with a commercial hatchery to spawn adult scallops collected from Florida waters. Bay scallop larvae will then be 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 will help to increase the number of larvae that survive to settle and eventually develop into adults.
- Release of hatchery-reared or naturally-harvested juvenile bay scallops (spat)
Some bay scallop larvae from the hatchery will be held until they develop into juveniles. These juvenile bay scallops, or spat, will then be released into areas with low densities of bay scallops. Researchers will also collect juvenile scallops using settlement collectors (described in the “Juvenile Monitoring” section). The spat from the underwater collectors will also be released into areas targeted for restoration. 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. The scientists will use 2 primary methods during the 3-month recreational harvesting season to evaluate recreational use:
Scientists will count boats in areas open to bay scallop harvest by conducting both aerial surveys and visual surveys on the water. Additionally, researchers will count trailers in the parking lots of marinas near areas open to bay scallop harvest.
- Surveys of scallopers
Surveying scallopers will help FWRI scientists understand how many people are able to enjoy the experience of scalloping in Florida. Reports by scallopers will also help biologists generate population models and identify long-term trends. Scientists will use shore-based surveys, which are conducted at the dock as people come back after a day of scalloping. They will also use online surveys to make public participation as easy as possible.
How will FWRI scientists know if these restoration efforts work to help enhance bay scallop populations in the Panhandle?
Researchers will need to continually monitor bay scallop populations within the Florida Panhandle to determine whether their restoration efforts are succeeding. They will monitor both adult and juvenile bay scallops in the targeted restoration regions using two different methods. To check on the status of adult bay scallop populations, researchers conduct annual swimming surveys in the seagrass areas in which bay scallops are typically found. They will use the same methods described in the “Population Monitoring” to determine the abundance, distribution, and resilience of bay scallop populations in the restoration areas. Juvenile scallops will be monitored monthly using the settlement collectors described in the “Juvenile Monitoring”. This will enable scientists to measure recruitment rates and the health of bay scallop populations.