Scalloping in Florida is one of the most popular water activities on the Florida Gulf Coast. The activity is family friendly, doesn’t require a bunch of specialized gear and is an active, yet relaxing day on the water. Add it up, and it’s clear why scalloping in Florida is so popular.
Compared to say, lobstering in Florida, scalloping is a bit easier for a few reasons. First, you typically are in shallower water. The grass flat areas where you find people harvesting scallops are usually three to six feet in depth. Moreover, scallops are easier to catch than lobsters! For families with younger children who are great swimmers, but perhaps not ready for free diving in ten feet of water, scalloping is a great family activity.
Additionally, if you have little ones, you can have a great scalloping adventure in just a few hours. It’s not necessary to spend all day on the water. Look for other boats scalloping in grass flats and find a spot nearby (give the other boat and swimmers space). Then, get your snorkel and fins on, bring your dive flag, and start your hunt!
Scalloping is simple. It typically involves floating or swimming along the surface of the water (usually with a mask and snorkel) in three to six feet of water with grassy bottoms. Some compare it to an easter egg hunt. As you float and swim, you’re searching for scallops hidden in the grass below. When you spot one, you dive down, you catch it and put it in your bag. First-timers might be surprised to realize that scallops will actually attempt to swim away from you, and they can pinch you if you grab them in the wrong spot. They aren’t difficult to catch, and when you do, simply grab it from behind to avoid getting pinched.
The Florida Bay scallop grows in the seagrass beds in the Gulf of Mexico. They have a bunch of small blue eyes that can be useful for spotting them. Of course, part of the attraction is the fact that scallops are delicious to eat, and scallops are one of Florida’s easiest delicacies to harvest yourself before eating! Bay scallops are typically smaller than the larger sea scallops found at fine dining restaurants, but the bay scallops can be sweeter and more tender than the larger ones. After returning home with a bag full of scallops, you’ll have to shuck them before cooking and eating.
The scalloping region in the state of Florida is on the Gulf of Mexico side of the state and goes from the panhandle down to about Pasco County (just north of Tampa Bay). The most popular areas are in Hernando, Citrus and Levy counties which essentially make up the region in and around the city of Crystal River.
This region is a thriving habitat for scallops because of the presence of grass flats and clear water. Big grass flats with great water flow means a lot of scallops. The fresh water entering the Gulf of Mexico near New Port Richie provides the excellent water flow that makes this region such a great scalloping destination.
Due to the proximity to Tampa Bay, boaters can head north to these areas, spend a few hours scalloping, and head back in the same day. It makes for a great family day adventure on the water.
The season dates can vary depending on the county (as can the regulations). Always be sure to check the FWC regulations as well as the county specific information before going out scalloping.
Typically, Levy, Citrus and Hernando counties have the same season. In 2020, the scalloping season was between the dates July 1 and September 24.
Pasco County had a shorter, ten-day season in July during 2020 (begins the third Friday in July). Until 2017, Pasco County was closed for years. Officials have determined that the scallop population is to the point where the limited, shorter seasons are acceptable. However, the population is not to the point where a full, multi-month season is possible yet.
While not as crazy as the opening of lobster season, the first few days of scalloping season can get busy. If you plan to go scalloping during the opening days, make sure you’re following the rules and staying safe.
Recreational harvesters are required to have a Florida saltwater fishing license in order to go scalloping in Florida.
Note that each county has a daily bag limit, so make sure you’re complying with local regulations. For instance, it’s common for a limit to be 2 gallons of scallops in shell per person, or 10 per vessel.
You can read more about bay scallops regulations at the FWC website.
Similar to lobstering, the gear you need for scalloping is quite minimal. Snorkel and fins are standard for swimming at the surface and diving down. Make sure you bring your dive flag as well. For catching and harvesting the scallops, a mesh bag that you can put your caught scallops in is key, and you might prefer to use gloves when handling scallops.
Any type of boat is really fine for scalloping. Center consoles are always common, but some folks will even rent pontoons. Even larger boats such as a 40-foot vessel with a three foot draft are just fine as you can scallop effectively in depths of five and six feet.
Pay attention to the tides. At low tide, there are many areas where you can swim in just a few feet of water making it easy for kids to grab a bunch of scallops themselves.
Visibility is key to successful scalloping. Depending on the weather, a few days of heavy rain can sometimes impact water clarity.
Back in the boat, consider throwing the caught scallops either in a live well or in a cooler with some ice. If the scallops get too warm, they can die quickly.
The grass beds along Florida’s gulf coast stretching from the panhandle down to Pasco county are popular scalloping areas. Citrus, Hernando and Levy counties near Crystal River are considered the best areas due to the water clarity and other factors.
If you’re without a boat, Steinhatchee has areas where you can wade out off the beaches and scallop. Some areas you can wade into the grass flats and easily scoop up scallops by hand, and some areas are grass flats accessible from the beach where you can swim with a snorkel and mask.
You don’t need much to go scalloping! If you’re taking your boat, make sure you have your Florida saltwater fishing license. Bring your dive flag, a bag for scallops and your standard swimming gear such as fins, snorkel and mask, and you’re good to go!