It’s summertime in Florida, and finally, it’s scalloping season again! Scalloping is hands down one of my most favorite Florida activities. I love the entire process! The ride out on Crystal River is picturesque, it’s what I refer to as “old Florida”. Hours of swimming in the clear, shallow water. The saltwater makes me feel buoyant, I feel like I just float across the surface all the while hunting for treasure!
While I grew up here in Central Florida, I must admit, I hadn’t heard of scalloping until I was in my 40’s. Scalloping off the coast of Florida has gone on for decades. In the 70’s the scallop population was beginning to decline, but it wasn’t until the mid-80’s that regulations tighten to protect the scallop population. In the mid 90’s commercial scalloping was banned completely. Restoration projects were started by the Fish and Game Conservation to restore the bay scallop population and all fishing was limited to recreational scalloping only.
What is a Scallop?
Bay scallops are a smaller scallop than their sea scallop relative. They are a bivalve species, meaning they have two shells that are held together with a hinge. Bay scallops live in the seagrass of the Gulf of Mexico. They typically live only one year but can live up to two years. Scallops eat algae and organic matter in the water. They have tiny eyes that line their shell.
Scallops can swim! It’s very cool to watch unless they are trying to get away of course. They swim by opening and closing their shell. This thrusts out water and pushed the scallop backward.
What Equipment do you Need for Scalloping?
Scalloping is one of the simplest “fishing” activities that you can do. Equipment needs are minimal. In Florida, a saltwater fishing license is required unless you are using a charter that provides the licensure. Each swimmer needs a mask and snorkel. A defogging product is helpful for the mask. They sell specialty products however some people use dawn, or toothpaste as a defogger. Fins are also useful to help with swimming and diving. Philip likes to use a long-handled net while scalloping. He uses the net to flush the scallops out of the tall grass. Some scallopers like to use a glove. Scallops can pinch, but I personally find that gloves are not necessary.
The most important needed item is sunscreen. Just a word to the ladies, you spend a lot of time diving, so the most important place to sunscreen well is your backside. Keep in mind, swimsuits move, so lather the sunscreen on liberally. I have a joke that it’s not really scalloping if I didn’t come home with a sunburned booty!
How Do you Scallop?
Once you are sun screened up, it’s time to dive in. Actually, let’s say jump in, the water in the grass flats is shallow. Depending on the tide, the water may only be 4 feet to 10 feet deep.
Finding the first scallop is the hardest one, once you find one, it gets so much easier to find them. Scallops typically have a dark shell on the top and a lighter-colored shell on the bottom. Some can have a red tint to them as well. If a scallop is upside down, that white shell will be facing up and much easier to find. Often you will see the scallops’ tiny eyes looking at you. Also, if you startle them, the scallops may pop their shells, which always excites me. As my “over 40” vision declines, scalloping is getting more difficult for me. However, that little pop of the shell always confirms for me that I really did see a scallop if I happened to miss it.
Once you spot a scallop, you just dive down and pick it up. If you get lucky, you’ll spot two or three all in one dive and can gather them all at once. That’s it, just keep swimming, diving, and gathering them. We use net bags to put our scallops in as we gather them.
Recreational scalloping does have limits. The 2021 daily bag limit is 2 gallons of whole bay scallops in shell or one pint of bay scallop meat per person. The maximum boat limit is 10 gallons of whole bay scallops in shell per boat or a ½ gallon of bay scallop meat. Always check the current guidelines as they do change, year to year.
In the video, I did do a short clip on how to clean scallops with my granddaughter. I missed one step that I didn’t realize I had done until I was all finished. Cleaning scallops is very easy, as I show in the video, it’s easy enough for my 6-year-old granddaughter to help. If you have a great team, you can get an assembly line together and knock it out quickly. A small shop vac makes it even easier. Though it’s really gross to clean!
To clean the scallops, it’s easiest to put them on ice first. The scallops will open on their own which makes this so much easier. Using a butter knife or a special shucking tool, crack open the shells enough to get a spoon in the shells.
The step I missed, is to take a spoon and run it along with the shell on one side of the scallop. This separates the meat from the shell and allows you to fully open the scallop. I just pulled the shells apart in my clip, but that does tear the scallops.
Once the shell is open, pull out all the organs around the scallop. The only thing that should remain in the shell is the white scallop. If you are using a shop vac, the scallop will remain after the organs are vacuumed off.
Then finally, using the spoon again, separate the scallop from the shell. My daughter and her husband brought some of the scallops home on just one shell and cooked them inshell. The dish was beautiful! I was very impressed. Thank you to my son-in-law, Chris Soroka at KrankMyBait for sharing this gorgeous dish.
The scalloping season runs from the beginning of July to near the end of September. Check annually for the specific dates for your area. The only expenses to scalloping are the fishing license and transportation to the grass flats. If we owned a boat, we could scallop more often and put away scallops for the winter, fuel would be our main expense. If you own a boat, you know that’s not cheap.
Since we don’t own a boat, our options are a fishing charter, or to sweet talk our boat owning family members into taking us. Thankfully for us, we like to spend time as a family, and we can usually make that happen once a year!
An optional expense is to pay someone to shuck the scallops. Philip opted to have ours shucked this year and to enjoy dinner with the family, rather than spend all evening cleaning scallops. However, cleaning scallops is simple enough that everyone can help to get the job done.
“Have you heard the story of the Little Red Hen?”Barbra-Sue Kowalski
My kids grew up with this motto, which simply means, that we all work together to get the task done so that we can all enjoy the rewards together too.
For us, scalloping is just a great way to spend time with family. It’s a real treat to spend the day on the boat and enjoy the company of those we love. Special thanks to my sister, Tomi-Lyn Seager, and Brooke Tucker for taking us out on the boat and hosting us for a wonderful day. The delicious scallops at the end of the day are just a bonus.
About the Author: Barbra-Sue Kowalski grew up on a small hobby farm. She was always drawn to farm life, however, she was stuck in an urban life far from her roots. Barbra-Sue was a single mom for 13 years, raising her 3 children on her own. She met Philip in 2018 and they married in 2021. Between the two of them, they have 5 grown children and 4 grandchildren. These empty nesters are following their dreams! As they both turn 50, they are building their off-grid homestead to live the life that they dream about. Learn more about Philip and Barbra-Sue here. Contact them here. To leave a comment on this post, please scroll down.