HERNANDO BEACH - The bay scallop season began June 29, and just past 10 a.m. boats were bobbing a few miles off Hernando Beach, with dive flags flapping in the wind and swimmers in snorkel gear looking for the fan-shaped mollusks.
Bay scallops can be harvested in Gulf of Mexico state water from the Pasco-Hernando line near Aripeka to the Mexico Beach Canal in Bay County. The season ends Sept. 24.
"We've got enough for an appetizer," Capt. Joel Gant said after half an hour of diving.
Gant, who has been a licensed captain for 15 years and operated Fishdaddy Charter, explained that scallops prefer the clearer water and grassy areas of the Gulf. Where there's one scallop, there are usually more, Gant said.
The same can be said of scallopers.
Before long, 10 boats were anchored near Gant's and two officers with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission pulled up alongside Gant's boat and asked to see his license.
Gant, who had collected only a handful of scallops, asked for tips on where to find more. The wildlife officials said to try deeper water.
About 9 miles offshore is the sweet spot. With no boats in sight, Gant dives. He eventually collects about a gallon of scallops, found sharing the water with pinfish, a remora and plenty of seagrass.
Along with knowing where to find scallops, it's good to know the laws.
Gant noted that if someone launched from New Port Richey and was caught bringing home a catch, the scalloper would be headed to jail.
Collecting scallops is a whole lot easier than cleaning them. Gant stops at the "Redneck Riviera" - a shallow spot where boaters wade, float, drink and barbecue - to crack open his catch and put the scallops on ice.
All in all, about 50 tiny scallops are packed in the cooler. Their fate: to be battered and fried.
The daily limit is 2 gallons of unshelled scallops or 1 pint of meat per person, with a maximum of 10 gallons of unshelled scallops or a half gallon of meat per vessel, according to the fish and wildlife commission.