The FWC has proposed major changes for all counties on the west coast permitted to harvest scallops during the upcoming 2018 scallop season. On February 8th, 2018 FWC Commissioners will make final rules to create regionally – specific open harvest seasons for scallops. If the final rules end up being anything like the proposal presented by the FWC then Citrus County should prepare for a major loss in the 2018 season.
In the June 2016 Commission Meeting held by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the Commissioners had directed staff to explore potential changes to bay scallop management. The FWC staff put together a series of meetings with people within the communities of Gulf County all the way down the coast to Pasco County. The staff of the FWC brought forward an abundance of information to the Commission and at that time, the Commission approved regionally – specific changes to the scallop season dates on a trial basis for 2017. Those regionally – specific changes included new harvest dates of July 25th, 2017 through September 10th, 2017 for Gulf County, including all waters in the St. Joseph Bay.
After the 2017 scallop season, the FWC staff once again held a series of 5 public meetings in October. The majority of the feedback that was received from the meetings with stakeholders was focused on season structure and season dates. More specifically a group of local community leaders in Citrus County voiced their concerns about the heavy boat traffic when opening weekend of scallop season coincides with Fourth of July weekend. FWC proposed the following regionally – specific season structure changes during their December 2017 Commission meeting
the local scallop population to continue to recover
creating a more consistent start date yearly
At 8:30 a.m. on Thursday, February 8th, 2018 the FWC will hold it’s monthly Commission Meeting that is open to the public in Tallahassee, Florida. During the meeting FWC Commissioners will make final rules to create regionally – specific open harvest seasons for scallops. I will be in attendance during this meeting and will give my professional opinion when the opportunity arises. I encourage each and everyone one of you to attend this meeting alongside of me and also share your personal opinions.
Now that I have educated you on the facts of the proposal by the FWC let me provide you with my professional and personal opinion on this matter.
In the series of meetings FWC staff held in October 2017 with community leaders after scallop season the most common feedback received from our area was about boat traffic during the opening weekend of the season. However, the people who gave feedback during that time seem to be a far cry from “leaders” in our community of Citrus County. Fourth of July falling coincidentally close to the opening season for scalloping results in very heavy boat traffic, but let's be honest… it’s OPENING WEEKEND OF SCALLOP SEASON! The FWC proposal to open up Paso County for a 10-day season as well as northern counties being open for harvest several weeks prior to our harvest season will indefinitely lift tremendous pressure off the Homosassa and Crystal River waterways during opening season regardless of the day the Fourth of July Holiday falls on.
My frustration with the proposal isn’t because I don’t agree. My frustration comes from the lack of planning on the FWC’s part. Yes, 2017 season was a trial basis for regionally – specific season structure changes, however, Citrus County’s heavy boat traffic concerns wasn’t one of those “trial basis” changes in 2017. Now Citrus County could potentially be walking into the 2018 season with a total loss of 24 scallop worthy days. More importantly, Citrus County could potentially be walking into the 2018 season losing money from the many clients who would have been bringing money to our economy during those 24 days.
I can't speak for other local Captains but I personally have multiple clients that have based their vacations primarily around the 2018 scallop season. These clients have made reservations a year in advance prior to the FWC proposing changes to open harvest dates. For some of my clients, this kind of vacation requires time off from work, airfare, and lodging which makes rescheduling for a later date not an option.
On January 10th, 2017 local Captains including myself, hotel managers, the Citrus County Chamber Director, Tourist Development Council members, and other small business owners, gathered in Citrus County at a workshop held by FWC. Our community worked together during this workshop to let the FWC know that we're not opposed to change, however, we're opposed to change that is a last minute decision that affects every business in our community. Actually, quite a few members in attempt ndance made it quite clear to FWC staff how poorly planned this proposal came about.
This doesn’t just affect us as Captains. This major loss will affect our entire community. Scallop season is exceptionally lucrative to Citrus County and contributes to our economy in such a huge way. Our economy is counting on our community to voice it's opinion on Facebook, blogs, and any other social media sites, but also directly to the FWC staff and Commissioners. Below I have posted a direct link to the FWC website where you can have the opportunity to share your opinion on the topic of Bay Scallops. If you scroll towards the bottom of the linked website you’ll find “Saltwater Rulemaking Comments”. Fill out all required fields and submit.
Saltwater Rulemaking Comments Link: myfwc.com/fishing/saltwater/rulemaking/comments/