BY LIZA STROUT – Betty Staugler with Florida Sea Grant and Michael Gerlach of the Gasparilla Island Bridge Authority stood out on a windy dock last Thursday, surrounded by empty cages and rope. It was time to deploy this year’s crop of young scallops.
Sitting in a nearby five-gallon bucket, young scallops the size of a thumbnail waited to be measured, counted, and lowered into the water of Gasparilla Pass.
Bay scallops used to be common enough in Southwest Florida waters that they were harvested commercially. About 40 years ago, the population collapsed. It was not because people were collecting too many; it was because scallops are very sensitive to changes in water quality. Shifts in salinity, red tide, and run-off from agriculture and mining all combined to make local waters unlivable for scallops.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, in cooperation with Charlotte and other counties along the Gulf, are working to bring the bay scallop back to local waters. Since 2009, volunteers have given their time, boats, and skills to scallop searches in Lemon Bay, Gasparilla Sound, and Pine Island Sound.
The searches give biologists an idea of how the scallop population is doing each year. Mike is part of the effort to return the bay scallop to Gasparilla Sound. Bay scallops spawn in fall, and in January cages are deployed across area waters, each with 25 scallops. The scallops are placed in mesh bags to protect them from predators, and then into cages. The cages are lowered from private docks, and the dock owners track the progress of the scallops.
The hope is that these scallops will survive to the next spawning season, and their offspring will begin a new population in area waters. There have some signs of success, but since each generation only has one spawning season a particularly bad year can set everything back to square one.
If you have a dock that you can volunteer for a scallop cage, the Charlotte County contact is Betty Staugler at [email protected]. To volunteer for the dive in Pine Island Sound in August of 2012, contact [email protected]