ORLANDO, Fla. – It's scallop season in Florida, which means hundreds of scallopers converge on Homosassa Bay in search of the edible mollusk.
Early on a bright and sunny Saturday morning, my family set out for the Gulf of Mexico in search of the Florida Bay scallop. There were six in our hunting party; four were novice scallopers. We were armed with snorkel masks, swim fins, scalloping bags, sunscreen, snacks and a salty sea pup.
Scalloping can best be described as an underwater Easter egg hunt. You slip on your snorkel mask, grab a mesh scalloping bag and jump in. You float along the top of the water until you spot the scallop shells nestled along the grassy bottom.
Sometimes you will even see the scallops' eyes, tiny blue gemstones shining up from around the mouth of the shell. Take a deep breath and dive down to scoop up the scallop.
Scallops don't bite or pinch or do anything scary, although it can be a bit startling if they decide to scoot away from you by opening and closing their shells. Their propulsion will only move them about a foot. Out of the water, they may spit, but it's just a little seawater and won't hurt you.
Our adventure started at McRae's Marina in Homosassa, about 80 to 90 miles west of Orlando near the Gulf of Mexico. Homosassa and nearby Crystal River are among the most popular destinations for recreational scallopers because the Florida bay scallop grows and lives in the shallow seagrass beds common to these areas.
The scalloping season for Citrus County, which includes Crystal River and Homosassa, began July 1 and runs through Sept. 24.
The Florida Wildlife Commission approved regionally-specific bay scallop open season in February. The season dates and regions are available here.
Be sure to apply sunscreen before you leave the marina, and remember to reapply it later. Or wear a swim shirt to protect your back, which will be exposed to the sun while you are face-down in the water hunting scallops.
You will need a saltwater fishing license and a dive flag, both of which most boat captains will provide along with a bucket and ice for collecting your catch. We found our captain on scallophunter.com. The daily limit for harvesting scallops is 2 gallons per person or 10 gallons per vessel.
Scallops have a one-year life cycle. They begin spawning in September, then die afterward. A female can lay 1 million eggs, which hatch in March; May is their big growth month.
Our novice scallopers were successful, but exhausted themselves searching for the bivalve mollusks. A nap on the 2-mile boat trip back to the marina was well-earned, as was the tasty lunch in Homosassa.
The scallops themselves were packed in ice for the journey back to Orlando, then cleaned and cooked up for a delicious dinner.