In Search of Tampa Bay Scallops
By Anne McKay Garris
Kim, Sam and Betty Jordan (beside the boat) were among 190 volunteers who spread around Tampa Bay, last Saturday, and searched for scallops among the sea grasses in shallow water. Using snorkels and a transect line to guide them in their search, the volunteers counted the scallops they found in a total of 14,500 square meters of Tampa Bay.
This year the total counted was 674 scallops, an increase over last year. The scallop is one of the indicators of the water quality of bay waters, according to Kevin Misiewicz, an Environmental Specialist with Tampa Bay Watch, co-sponsors of the search, along with Tampa Bay Estuary Program. "Although many factors can affect the scallop population, like red tide, high rainfall and wastewater discharges, overall, if the scallop population increases we can know the water quality and habitat for other species are improving."
In recent years, Tampa Bay Watch has imported scallops from the Panhandle of Florida and put them in breeding pens around the bay. Since scallops release both sperm and eggs into the water, having the scallops confined in a small area allows for a much larger population of juveniles. Furthermore, the breeding pens prevent most predators from reaching the scallops. In their short, 12 to 18 month life, scallops may grow to as much as three inches, and they are tasty morsels. Currently, the population in Tampa Bay is too small to allow harvesting. All of the scallops found in the search were promptly returned to their hiding places in the grass, along with much good-natured teasing about the penalty for eating one.
The annual Great Scallop Search is an incredibly popular event, according to Peter Clark, Executive Director of Tampa Bay Watch. "We are equipped to field a certain number of volunteers," he added. "This year we got our quota early and had to waitlist a large number who wanted to participate."
Betty Jordan agreed. "Our family loves to kayak in Tampa Bay," said the St. Petersburg resident. "We thought the Great Bay Scallop Search would be an exciting way to give something back to the environment we enjoy. Even though we tried to register early we were wait-listed because the kayak quota was full. I'm so glad they found room for us to participate. It's been a real adventure and we'll certainly be back next year."
Even as the scallop searchers celebrated their success, your reporter was remembering harvesting scallops in Clearwater Bay, back in 1946. Using my Dad's old wooden boat, we rowed across to the mangrove islands, halfway between Clearwater and Clearwater Beach where the community of Island Estates now exists.
In the shallows around the islands we towed our boat behind us, stopping every few feet to snatch up another scallop. We didn't need snorkels because the water was so clear we could easily see the little creatures, scooting along backwards with their rim of very blue "eyes" peeping out from between their shells. In a very short time we had a bounteous supply and made our way home to feast on the delightful seafood.
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