Count shows scallops rebounding in Tampa Bay
By Emerson Brito
People are jumping into the waters north of here and hauling out scallops by the thousands this time of year, but the environmental group Tampa Bay Watch is rejoicing at a far smaller found number closer to home — just 233 of them.
It was a scientific undertaking by selected volunteers off Boca Ciega and Fort DeSoto that turned up the local scallops Saturday, rather than hungry snorkelers looking for their next meal from the Pasco-Hernando county line north during the gulf harvest that runs through Sept. 24.
But 233 is nearly double the 112 found in local waters during last year’s Great Bay Scallop Search and represents an upward trend line that has local scallop watchers celebrating. Just five were counted in 2011.
Both Tampa Bay Watch and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission describe scallop populations as an indicator of water quality because of the shellfish’s sensitivity to pollution and their ability to filter and clean the water of nuisance species like phytoplankton.
Scallop numbers can be an indicator that something’s going on at a bigger level, and extreme changes mean the local population might collapse, said Sarah Stephenson, a scientist at the state’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute.
One example: the annual search recorded a drastic decline in scallop numbers, from 674 to 32, between 2009 and 2010, the year of the Deepwater Horizon offshore rig blast that spilled oil into the Gulf of Mexico.