By Emily Hardin, Northwest Region Volunteer Coordinator
Cameron Baxley, FWRI staff, gets help from volunteers during the St. Joseph Bay Scallop Rodeo. Photo courtesy of Emily Hardin, FWC.
When you first hear the words “scallop rodeo,” it may conjure up images of someone riding a bucking scallop or racing a scallop around a trio of barrels. While no one was riding scallops at these rodeos, you could say that scallops were being lassoed and rounded up.
Scallop populations in St. Joseph and St. Andrews Bays (Gulf and Bay counties, respectively) have decreased over the past several years. In response, the FWC’s Fish & Wildlife Research Institute initiated an effort to restore bay scallop populations. Part of this effort involves Scallop Sitter volunteers, who “babysit” a cage of scallops throughout their life cycle. The other part of this effort involves the Scallop Rodeos.
The first official Scallop Rodeos were held this past July and August, wherein hundreds of volunteers assisted in gathering up scallops from St. Joseph and St. Andrews Bays. Volunteers came out in droves to enjoy a day on the water with their friends and families while practicing their scalloping techniques. Volunteers collected up to 50 scallops each, which they returned alive to FWC staff. At the end of the rodeo, FWC staff placed the scallops in predator-exclusion cages and then back into the bay.
The cages, approximately 3 feet x 3 feet, house up to 200 scallops each. Inside the cages, the scallops are safe from predation and have an increased chance of successful reproduction. Scallops are broadcast spawners, meaning they release egg and sperm into the water column and “hope for the best.” Individuals are often too far apart from each other, leading to unsuccessful reproduction and low numbers of scallops in the bay. The cages keep the scallops close together, thereby increasing the chances that juvenile scallops will soon populate the bay.
St. Andrews Bay has not had an open recreational scallop harvesting season in several years, as populations have been deemed too low to allow for harvesting. For the Scallop Rodeo, 553 scallops were collected over the course of several hours by a total of 57 volunteers. St. Joseph Bay does still have an open scallop season; however, in recent years, the season has only been open for about a month. The St. Joseph rodeo was held just prior to the opening of the 2018 scallop season. Over 100 volunteers helped to collect 1,123 scallops that will now remain in the bay through the open season and into the spawning season.
While Hurricane Michael may have impacted the effects from these rodeos, we hope to hold more in the future to further increase the scallop populations in the bays. Thank you to all the volunteers who not only helped to collect scallops, but also to those who assisted in constructing the predator-exclusion cages and made the rodeos possible!
Collected bay scallops.