Scalloping in Steinhatchee, Florida

Scalloping in Steinhatchee
By – Captain Steve Rassel of Last Cast Rass Guide Service

When asked what is scalloping like I tell people it is like an Easter egg hunt but under water.  Over night during the warm months of May and June while we were sleeping soundly in our beds dreaming of Trout and Redfish the Scallop Fairy flew over the flats and dropped all the scallops in the water.  Once hitting the water the scallops clapped their shells together and swam to the bottom waiting patiently for the first day Of July, the opening of scallop season.  Okay, okay maybe some of this is not true but I thought it would be allot funnier than the scientific version.  To understand the scallop we will have to go into some of the scientific details.

What is a scallop?  The name scallop comes from the appearance of the scallop shell.  It is a series of curved projections that form an ornamental border.  Scallops are bivalves; they have a soft body inside and two hard shells on the outside.  In this way they are like an oyster with the difference that scallops can swim or simulate a swimming motion.  They clap together their shells pushing out water and move in quick spurts along the sea bottom.  To survive and grow the scallop must eat.  Scallops eat microscopic organisms that float through the tide currents.  If the scallop is not eaten by people or predators it can live up to about a year and a half.  Besides people many animals eat scallops, including Star Fish and crabs.

On the inside of the scallop are allot of things predators can enjoy snacking on.  There are gills, a heart, stomach, anus and blue eyes, yes blue eyes.  These eyes are more for sensing than seeing.  The eyes sense change in light and motion helping to protect the scallop from predators.  Most Americans only eat the tender, firm nuggets of muscle while some Europeans eat the entire inside.
Just like with any other sport there are also rules and regulations for scalloping.  Scallop season runs from July 1st to September 10, 2005.  You can only catch the scallops by hand or a dip net.  Each person scalloping is allowed two gallons of whole scallops in the shell or one pint of cleaned scallop meat per day.  NO MORE than ten gallons of whole scallops in the shell or one half gallon of scallop meat cleaned can be possessed aboard a boat at one time.  It is NOT allowed to scallop in the morning, return to port and unload then go back out for another trip.  You are only allowed one limit per day.

When diving for scallops you MUST display a divers-down flag (you will notice when it comes to the divers-down flag there are allot of must and it is for yours and others safety so please follow this law).  The divers-down flag must be hanging from the highest point of the boat which is unobstructed and can be seen from a 360 degree angle.  The minimum size divers-down flag that can be displayed from your boat is twenty inches by twenty-four inches.  The flag must be red with a white diagonal stripe that begins at the top staff side and goes down to the lower opposite side.  The flag must also be fully unfurled so make sure you have wire or stiffener to do so.  When in inland water divers must stay within one hundred feet of the boat and three hundred feet within the boat when in open water.  When all divers are back in the boat remember you must take down the divers-down flag.  It is unlawful to run with the divers-down flag up.  When approaching boats with divers in the water you must always maintain an idle speed.  If you operate on-plane within divers you will be arrested for reckless operation of a vessel.  For additional information in regards to rules of scalloping and fishing please visit the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at 
www.myfwc.com.

Now we know the rules of scalloping now where will we catch them?  The Gulf is an awful big place to be looking for something so small.  All the rain over the winter and spring months have caused the rivers and creeks to swell and spill discolored water into the Gulf of Mexico in our area.  This has made the combination of finding clear water and scallops in the same area a little more difficult.  To the North from Fisherman’s Rest to Piney Point are producing some nice limits of scallops.  The first week of July I charted my group to Piney Point and we got our limit in no time.  While the scallops may not be as thick in numbers as some years ago they are plentiful enough to get ten gallons in a few hours and I believe that is part of the fun of scalloping.  Taking your time and enjoying the scenery from underneath.  You will want to stay shallow when the tide is high to avoid the dingy water and work your way out with the tide being sure to stay in fairly clear water.  The clearer the water the easier your job is.  Scallops will be found in anywhere from two to eight feet of water.  The pot holes seem to hold more scallops than the eel grass and if you can find the needle grass, moss and pot holes together you will be in scallop heaven.  To the South the areas around Rocky Creek and further to the South around Bowlegs and Pepperfish are also producing some nice limits of scallops.  The water has warmed up nicely and feels good when you jump in.  Remember this is Florida, the Sunshine State and the sun will be the brightest during the hours of 10am to 2pm.  Be sure to use plenty of sunscreen and re-apply after getting in and out of the water (even if the bottle says water proof it has to eventually come off).  You will especially want a helping hand when applying it to your back.  This will be the most exposed part of your body while diving.  I learned the hard way the first time and now I am paying the price with a nasty and painful sunburn that is sure to peel in the next couple of days.  This is not healthy no matter how much you are in the sun or how cloudy the sky is.  There is always UV rays.

When you get to the area you want to scallop be sure to secure your boat with an anchor and strong rope.  If I am leaving the boat unattended I use two anchor lines.  Every year someone comes up from diving to see their boat floating away due to a broken rope or improperly tied anchor.  Put up your dive flag, put on your mask and snorkel, fins or water shoes, grab your bag and enter the water using a ladder.  This will get your body use to the water temperature but it will also make aware of the depth of water you will be diving in.  Swim very slowly against the current on top looking down and scanning the grass and bottom for the scallops.  Sometimes they will be hiding other times just lying right on top of the grass or moss.  Take a deep breath, hold it, dive down and grab’em.  As you go to grab the scallop sometimes they will try to escape so be quick.  Come back to the surface blow the water out of your snorkel and add the scallop to your bag.  After you have worked a little ways from the boat – move over a little and float back to the boat carefully scanning the bottom for more scallops.

While catching your scallops you will want to put them in a cooler of ice.  The cold from the ice will help to pop the scallops open making it a little easier when time to shuck.  What ever you do be sure not to shuck your scallops in the areas where people are diving.  The droppings will attract predator fish including Sharks.  Move out to deeper water or wait until you return to port.   Everyone has their own technique of shucking scallops so use what works best for you.  In between the seasons I lose my touch and I have to go through about twenty or thirty of them to find it again.  Start with the dark side of the scallop shell up, have the part where the shells meets together, “hinge” pointing away from you, insert a scallop knife or another tool that can be used for shucking between the top and bottom shells.   Starting on the right detach the muscle from its attachment to the top shell. Remove the top shell and throw away.  Now you will be left with the bottom shell and all the scallop innards.  You will want to remove the dark colored innards gently by scrapping from the hinge to the front with the scallop knife or a spoon.  While scraping hold the dark colored innards to your scallop knife and they should pull away from the muscle.  After removing the dark innards you will be left with the white muscle.  Scrape your scallop knife underneath the muscle and pop it into a covered container or reseal-able bag.  Move on to the next on until you are all done.  Shucking scallops can be time consuming and is no where near as much fun as it was to catch them.  If you do not feel like shucking the scallops yourself at most of the marinas there will be “shuckers” who for a fee will shuck your catch for you.  After the scallops are shucked they should be refrigerated or kept on ice and used within two days or stored in the freezer and used within four months. Thaw in the refrigerator or under cold running water.  Do not let the scallops sit out for a long period of time.  After they are thawed if not cooking immediately return them to the refrigerator.  Now, wasn’t the Scallop Fairy allot funnier?

Well, there are allot of busy summer days ahead of us and we hope that we will be able to spend at least one with you.  While enjoying the scallop season please remember that the Scallop Fairy only makes it around once a year so follow the rules and regulations and always leave some for seed.  Fly those divers-down flags high and keep an eye out for fellow divers.  See you in the water; I will be the one with the mask, snorkel and fins on.

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 This article appears in the magazine, “Outdoor Sports in the Southeast” Aug.-Sept. ’05 (volume 8, issue 47)
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