scalloping in Florida

7 of the best things to know about scalloping in Florida

Rachel Levy
Published: August 15, 2023

Let’s dive headfirst into the waters along Florida’s Gulf Coast for a unique summer snorkeling pastime that’s sure to quickly become an annual tradition: scalloping in Florida. As summer days lazily stretch on, spend those extra hours of daylight scanning the seagrass for scallops, a natural treasure that are as interesting to see underwater as they are delicious to eat.

Before heading out on the water, you’ll want to make sure you’ve got everything necessary for a successful harvest. Luckily, there’s not a whole lot more to it than bringing along a good mask, snorkel and fins — things just about all of us have on-deck here in Florida, or that any scalloping operator can provide for you, too. Add to that short list a dive flag so that nearby boats know to maintain a safe distance and a mesh bag for the harvest and you’ll be well on your way to a successful scalloping harvest!

A day out on the water is always a good day, especially when you’re going scalloping in Florida. (photo credit: Susan B. Barnes)

When to go scalloping in Florida

Before you get out on the water, make sure that scallop season is still in full swing in the area you’re planning to visit. Limiting your harvest to these time frames ensures that you’re scalloping legally as well as doing your part to aid the long-term sustainability of this activity, ensuring the population has time to rebound each year. 

The 2023 scalloping in Florida season is:

When to book a charter to go scalloping in Florida

There are plenty of boat charters that you can book with in case you don’t own your own boat for getting out on the water. As fun as scalloping is, it’s no surprise that it has become a very popular past-time for locals and tourists alike. Because of this, boat charters fill up fast–as do vacation rentals and in some of the most popular spots for scalloping. Make sure you take this into account and plan ahead of time to make sure you and all of your fellow harvesters can have a spot on the boat and a place to stay.

Two charters to consider are Florida Backwater Charters in New Port Richey, who Terry headed out with earlier this summer, and Plantation Adventure Center in Crystal River, with whom Susan went scalloping last summer.

scalloping in Florida
You’ll need a saltwater fishing license (in most cases) to go scalloping in Florida, and any charter will provide it to cover the boat. (photo credit: Susan B. Barnes)

The license you need to go scalloping in Florida

If you plan to head out and go scalloping in Florida on your own, you’ll need a saltwater fishing license to do so. The good news for Florida residents is that an annual saltwater fishing license costs just $17 for the whole year. Non-residents can snag an annual pass for $47 or, if you’ll just be here for a few days, there’s a non-resident 3-day license for $17 or 7-day license for $30. Double check the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) website to see if you might be eligible for an exemption. People under the age of 16 don’t need a license, nor do Florida residents over the age of 65.

Heading out with a charter to go scalloping? They’ve got you covered on the license, so there’s nothing to do but show up with some determination and get set to get wet.

Scalloping in Florida is like a treasure hunt

Dive down a few feet to search the seagrass for you next fresh Florida meal (photo credit: Florida Sports Coast)

Scalloping takes time, patience and a fair share of finesse. Because these little bivalves often blend right into their environment, spotting a scallop nestled into the seagrass is a thrilling discovery that signals the beginning of the chase. Once spotted, a scallop can move through the water by pushing a jet of water through its shell. They can also bury themselves in the sand. Spotting a scallop on the move is just step one. Being quick enough to catch it, well, that’s a whole different story! When they’re just sitting on the seagrass, however, all you have to is pick up your catch and place it into your mesh net.

scalloping in Florida
It’s important to know FWC-issued limits when going scalloping in Florida. (photo credit: Susan B. Barnes)

Florida scallops are vulnerable

The regulations for scallop harvesting vary depending on which county you’re in, but, in general, each person is allowed to harvest up to two gallons of whole scallops, and each vessel is capped out at 10 gallons. Double check the FWC website for up-to-date regulations on harvest limits, size restrictions and season lengths. Following these rules and regulations is an easy way to make help maintain long-term health of the marine ecosystem and scallop population while still participating in the harvest.

Additionally, avoid damaging seagrass beds and leave no trace in order to preserve this delicate ecosystem.

Generally, a single-serving of scallops is between four to six large scallops or about eight medium-sized scallops. But trust us, you’ll want more. Take this into account while you’re out in the water and make sure you’re harvesting enough for a hearty meal, but don’t take more than you need.

scalloping in Florida
When it comes to preparing your harvest, simple is best. Butter, garlic and some pepper go a long way. (photo credit: Susan B. Barnes)

Simple is best

Whether you like your seafood fried, grilled, pan-seared, or even air-fried, there’s no shortage of ways to enjoy fresh scallops. However, after all that hardwork out on the water, we recommend keeping the cook-time low and the ingredient list short. I mean, who can say no to a five minute dinner?

After searing your scallops in a hot pan for about two minutes on each side, simply add some butter, garlic, wine and lemon juice to the pan with a bit of parsley to make for a dish that’ll have your dinner guests raving. Some people prefer Florida bay scallops in their purest form–raw. They have a mild sweetness that makes them particularly delicious.

Enjoy scalloping in Florida

scalloping in Florida

The joy is in the hunt–and the feasting after too–when you go scalloping for Florida bay scallops (photo credit: Susan B. Barnes).

Scalloping regulations are constantly changing, depending on how their numbers are doing along the Gulf Coast, so make sure to visit the FWC website for the most up-to-date information before you head out on your trip.

Scalloping is a good way to brings many different people together. So whether you choose to explore the underwater world with family, friends, or fellow adventurers, sharing the joy of the discovery and the satisfaction of a successful scallop hunt is sure to create lasting memories out on Florida’s Gulf Coast

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