Want a unique tale to tell the folks back home, and something truly special to do during your stay on the island? Consider scalloping.
These tiny-yet-delectable mollusks grow in the grassy beds on the eastern end of St. George Island, and elsewhere along the Forgotten Coast such as St. Joseph Bay. Scallop season in Franklin County — home to Apalachicola and St. George Island — are in season from July 1 to Sept. 24; and in Gulf County (St. Joseph’s Bay), the season is shorter, running from Aug. 17 to Sept. 30.
Scalloping is an awesome activity for the whole family and requires very little in terms of gear. First, you’ll want to obtain a Florida saltwater fishing license, which can be had for a very reasonable $17 and is available at myfwc.com. After that, all you’ll need is a mesh net, a snorkel and mask, and a dive marker.
The dive marker is very important, as it alerts boaters in the area that there’s snorkeling going on. The dive marker is an orange or red float that’s towed around the snorkeler, and it’s required when shore snorkeling inland around St. George Island and in St. Joseph’s Bay.
You can scallop on your own, or through one of several different outfitters along the coast.
Scallops are usually found in 2 to 6 feet of water, and the ideal time to catch them is during a slack tide, when the grass blades are standing upright. Their shells have distinctive blue or purple “eyes” along the ridges and tiny hairs at the opening. And it’s important to note you have to actually catch the scallops, it’s definitely not like harvesting other shellfish such as clams or oysters. They’re tough to spot, but you can catch bay scallops either by hand or using a net.
The little mollusks are quick, however. They have powerful adductor muscles, which also make them such delicious eating, but they can pinch hard and it’s no treat if you have a finger nearby. And these bivalves are likely to try and flee if you’re looking to bag them. Be warned—they will try to escape by squeezing their shells together, shooting out a jet of water to quickly propel them across the bay’s floor.
The beauty of scalloping while snorkeling is that there’s so much else to see other than what you hope to put on a plate later in the day. There’s a host of other sea life to experience just below the water’s surface, such as seahorses, rays, starfish, sea urchins, and spider and horseshoe crabs.
An immensely successful scalloping trip means catching the limit, which is up to two gallons of whole bay scallops in the shell, or one pint of scallop meat, each day during the open season. Recreational scallopers can’t possess more than 10 gallons of whole bay scallops in the shell or a half gallon of meat aboard any boat, and the scallops cannot be sold for commercial purposes.
But you don’t want to sell these delicious morsels, you want to take them home and cook them. First, you’ll want to shell them with a small paring knife, and then clean all the debris and side muscle away from the prize, which is the round white muscle. Once those muscles are all that’s left, heat some butter, garlic and lemon juice in a skillet and sauté them for a few minutes on each side. Or you can toss them with seasoning and Panko breadcrumbs for a savory baked dish to be served over crusty bread.
Either way, you’ll feel like a world-class diver and chef, all for having a day’s fun with your family!