Scallop count up from last year
RUSTY CHINNIS | SUBMITTED
More than 100 searchers found 93 scallops before returning
to the Mar Vista Dockside Restaurant for a complimentary lunch
provided by the Chiles Group under the buttonwood trees.
The weather was perfect, the water clear and a record-breaking crowd of more than 100 volunteers collected 93 scallops during Sarasota Bay Watch’s Fifth Annual Scallop Search based at the Mar Vista Dockside Restaurant on Longboat Key.
The Scallop Search is the signature event of Sarasota Bay Watch and has been growing in popularity every year. Volunteers combed the grass flats from Palma Sola Bay in Manatee County to Big Pass in Sarasota from boats, kayaks, a sailboat and Sarasota High School’s floating classroom, The Carefree Learner.
Scallops are considered an indicator species in bay waters and were once numerous throughout the bay system. That all changed in the 1950s and 1960s when development, dredging, sewage and loss of seagrass sent the mollusk’s population into a tail spin. Since its inception in 2008, Sarasota Bay Watch has been intent on highlighting the plight of the scallops in an attempt to bring public awareness to the health of the bay. Fortunately scallops are resilient, and while the population is considered to have collapsed, there remain enough animals to keep the hope alive that they may once again return to numbers that might even allow for an eventual season. It’s illegal to harvest scallops because their numbers are so low, but the fact that they manage to hang on in local waters was the impetus for Sarasota Bay Watch to initiate a restocking effort that started in December of last year. In 2011, a fund raiser dubbed Scallopalooza by founding member John Ryan was held at the Sarasota Yacht Club. Funds from the evening at the Yacht Club made it possible for SBW to contract with Bay Shellfish Company in Terra Ceia to grow and eventually release four million baby scallops into the bay. Funds from the original Scallopalooza combined with a second event held in June raised an additional $14,000 giving SBW the resources to conduct three more releases beginning in the near future.
While the numbers of scallops found was small considering the area searched, it far surpassed the seven found in 2011. SBW is in the process of collaborating with Mote Marine Laboratory and the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program to work towards re-establishing a healthy scallop population. The plan is to initiate a multi-year effort to help scallops reach a critical mass so that they can once again establish their natural role in the diversity of Sarasota Bay. Volunteers returned to the Mar Vista Dockside Restaurant after the search and were treated to a wonderful lunch under the buttonwoods. The Chiles Group has been a major sponsor of the Scallop Search and SBW’s work in general. If you’re interested in getting involved in scallop restoration, SBW is forming a group of citizen scientists to assist in efforts to monitor the bivalve’s health. To sign up, contact SBW Executive Director Andy Mele at 941-204-0030. or visit www.sarasotabaywatch.org.
Rusty Chinnis is one of the founders of SBW.