If you grew up in Pensacola or anywhere along the Gulf Coast, you have probably taken a road trip down Highway 98 to Port St. Joe and Cape San Blas for the most thrilling (and delicious) scavenger hunt of the year — scalloping season!
And if you haven’t, this is your sign to book your trip because it truly is a quintessential part of living along the East Coast of Florida and a September novelty. I am not going to lie — last year was my FIRST time scalloping, but I didn’t grow up here so technically the ‘quintessential’ rule doesn’t apply to me.
From my first, but definitely not last, experience scalloping, here’s the basics you need to know about this season which runs from August 16-September 24.
What is scalloping?
It’s quite literally and underwater game of hide and seek. Most often, you’ll scallop from a boat (your own or hired) using a mask, snorkel and fins. You’ll anchor, display your dive flag and snorkel in 4-8ft of water over the beds of sea grass, gathering scallops by hand or with a small net and then tossing them in a small mesh bag. You can locate them by their shape, or by their rows of electric blue eyes.
As a first timer, I was pretty terrified of rummaging around in sea beds where you can’t necessarily see where you’re reaching, but once you see one clapping their shells together and propelling through the water you kind of get addicted to it. If I can do it, anyone can do it! And, yes, they really do have a row of electric blue eyes!
What do you need to bring?
- Mask, Snorkel and Fins – you can’t find them if you can’t see them.
- Dive Flag – safety first!
- Mesh Bag – you can’t store them in your swimsuit, at least I wouldn’t want to.
- Florida Fishing License – it’s the law!
- Sun Screen – protect that beautiful face.
- Boat – start schmoozing your boat owner friends now or there are boats for hire and charter boats available. Book early!
- Ice – like all seafood and shellfish, best kept on ice.
- Knife or spoon to clean your scallops – I talked my way out of this task, but here is a YouTube video I found on how to clean a scallop.
- Water, drinks and snacks – because we’re in the middle of a heat wave and who doesn’t love snacks.
How many scallops can you collect?
Daily Bag limit is 2 gallons of whole bay scallops in shell, or 1 pint of bay scallop meat per person. Maximum of 10 gallons of whole bay scallops in shell, or 1/2 gallon bay scallop meat per vessel. Find all the rules on recreational scalloping and zoning maps on the FWC website.
A Port St. Joe local or lifetime seasonal scalloper probably has more tips and tricks than I do, but for a beginner this article should set you up. The only thing left to do is enjoy a delicious scallop dinner — I prefer mine sautéed in brown butter, white wine and capers. Happy Scalloping season, y’all!