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Bay Scallop Web Survey Taps Recreational Harvesters

bay scallops in hand

How many bay scallops live along Florida's Gulf coast? That is a question researchers address each year through dive surveys at several locations. Tracking the bay scallop population long term can be particularly tricky because the animal's lifespan is just one to one and a half years. With limited time to cover all of the state's bay scallop habitats, molluscan fisheries biologists with the FWC's Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI) are turning to other people who know a thing or two about scallops: recreational harvesters. Information they provide will be compiled to complement the researchers' annual population data.

Biologists gather much of their data on adult bay scallop abundance in the summer before the recreational harvest and occasionally in the fall after the season. (Bay scallop harvest dates and regulations can be found online.) Researchers conduct counts at sites ranging from Pensacola Bay in the Panhandle to Pine Island Sound in southwestern Florida, including areas that remain closed to recreational harvesters.

To make public participation as easy as possible, researchers created an online Web survey. Recreational harvesters are asked to indicate where they harvest scallops, how many they collect, and how long it takes to harvest the shellfish. Participants can also e-mail to ask questions or send additional information, such as photos and videos.

With the data these recreational harvesters provide, biologists hope to gain a greater understanding of the species' biology and range limitations. Researchers expect that what they learn about bay scallop abundance in individual areas of the fishery will enhance the accuracy of their next annual report.

In addition, researchers plan to use the public's data, combined with their own, to generate population models and identify long-term trends. More comprehensive information on the fishery could benefit recreational fishermen, charter boat captains, and the tourism industry in communities where bay scallops are harvested.