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By Meghan Overdeep
August 28, 2019
Romona Robbins Photography/Getty Images

Florida's bay scallop population is in trouble.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission told The Tampa Bay Times that an estimated two scallops live in every 200 square meters of Hernando County waters this year, compared with last year's 3.5. In Citrus County the drop has been even more severe, dipping from 21.1 scallops per 200 square meters last year to 4.3 this year.

Scallop populations are variable, and wildlife experts are hopeful that the mollusks could bounce back naturally in Florida. But avid scallopers like Joe Calabro want to do more than simply cross their fingers and hope for the best.

"I feel like I've benefited so many years" from scallop harvesting, he told The Tampa Bay Times. "Maybe it's time I did something to help get it back."

So Calabro joined a local team of volunteer "scallop sitters," people who look after wild bay scallop populations living in the waters off Pasco, Hernando, and Citrus counties through the fall and winter months. Similar groups also exist throughout the Panhandle, where recreational scalloping has been ground to an almost standstill.

Scallop sitters look after cages of baby scallops in an effort to keep them safe through mating season. The volunteers—who are required to have either a private dock, boat or kayak—spend months cleaning the cages, collecting data on salinity, and monitoring their babies until they can be re-released into their natural habitats in February.

Brittany Scharf, an agent at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension in Hernando County, is working on getting official approval for her scallop-sitting project in the Tampa-area.

"Getting the community involved and aware of what kind of things do impact scallop populations—it's important to be aware," she told The Tampa Bay Times, "so we can continue to have scalloping season in the future."

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For more information on scallop sitting and to apply to be a 2020 sitter, visit Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's website at www.MyFWC.com

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