Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Fish and Wildlife Research Institute

A BAY
jet-propelled bivalve that be bright yellow or orange. In
spends most of its short life in Florida, scallops generally live 12
underwater grasses, the bay to 18 months and can grow up to

SCALLOPS
scallop is an important part of a height of 3.5 inches, measured
the marine ecosystem and an from the bottom hinge to the top-
indicator of coastal water quality. most edge of the shell.
A valuable Florida seafood Scallops have one large, cen-
commodity, bay scallops were tral adductor muscle that when
once plentiful in Tampa Bay and Underwater Canaries constricted closes the shells. A
all along Florida’s west coast. tiny ligament found inside near
Declining populations in many coastal areas the hinge acts like a spring and pops the shells
prompted resource managers to limit the fishery open when the muscle is relaxed. Many tiny
to a recreational harvest. Local economies of electric-blue eyes line the outer rim of the shell
small towns such as Steinhatchee and Port St. Joe in the transparent tissue that encloses the
still rely on this time-honored tradition. scallop, called the mantle. When the eyes detect
movement or shadows, the scallop can slam shut
Description
The bay scallop is a marine mollusc in the class
known as bivalves, referring to its two shells. The
upper shell is usually brown or dark gray while A scallop has 40 or more bright blue eyes
along the edge of its shell.
the lower shell is white. On occasion, shells may

Scientific name Argopecten irradians
Size Maximum of 3.5 inches
Range Along the Atlantic seaboard from Massachusetts to North Carolina. Also
in the Gulf of Mexico from south Florida to Mexico. In Florida, the largest
populations of bay scallops are found north of Tampa Bay to St. Joseph
Bay in the Panhandle.
Habitat Seagrass meadows in shallow waters
Status No commercial harvest is permitted in Florida. Recreational harvest is
limited. For current regulations, visit MyFWC.com/Marine and select
“Recreational Regulations.”

Scallop art after Pete Carmichael photo; used with permission.
or even propel itself away from danger by clap- Life History
ping the shells rapidly. When relaxed, the scallop
opens its shells to breathe and feed through its A scallop has the remarkable ability to produce
gills. Microscopic cilia on the gills act like both eggs and sperm, a condition called
millions of paddles to pump water between the simultaneous hermaphroditism. A sudden change
shells and across the gills. Mucus traps particles in water temperature, usually associated with a
of decayed plant matter and phytoplankton, strong cold front, can trigger spawning in
which are moved to the stomach to be ground up scallops. In Florida, spawning generally occurs in
and digested. In addition to the muscle, mantle, the fall, when the water cools rapidly. North of
gills and stomach, bay scallops have a heart, Florida, bay scallops typically spawn earlier in
kidneys and a large, sock-shaped reproductive the year, but always when the water temperature
organ. Unlike other bivalve shellfish such as changes quickly.
oysters and clams, the only part of the scallop A scallop is capable of producing millions of
that most people eat is the adductor muscle. eggs at once, but only a few of those millions
survive to adulthood. Scallops are broadcast
spawners: they release eggs and sperm into the
water, where fertilization occurs externally.
The adductor muscle—the part of a scallop Successful fertilization is dependent on the
that most people eat—is about the same proximity of the scallops. After a day, fertilized
circumference as a dime.
eggs become tiny larvae. As they grow, they

Art after N. J. Blake
(University of South Florida
College of Marine Science)
and J. S. Gutsell (1930).

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develop a D-shaped shell and a foot that allows scallop mortality events. In winter, severe cold
them to swim, crawl and explore their water temperatures can delay the development of
surroundings. Finally, after about 14 days, they scallop larvae which increases the time that they
settle into the seagrass beds. They anchor are exposed to open-water predators. Excessive
themselves to a blade of seagrass using tiny hair- sediment stirred up in the water can suffocate
like fibers called byssal threads. Once attached, scallops by clogging their delicate gills.
the juvenile bivalves are called spat. The scallop Scallops also are very sensitive to naturally
spat that survive and grow large enough, about occurring toxins. Outbreaks of the marine alga
the size of a quarter, will eventually detach from Karenia brevis, commonly known as the Florida
the grass blade and fall to the seafloor, where red tide organism, can wipe out shellfish beds.
they will spend the rest of their lives. Whereas oysters and clams can close their shells
tightly and survive for days without feeding or
breathing during a red tide bloom, scallops filter
Scallop larvae can migrate up and down water continuously and can survive only a few
in the water column, but their travel over hours of exposure to a high toxin concentration.
long distances depends on currents. Human activities also affect bay scallop
populations. Construction and dredging can
disrupt the natural flow of food-laden waters
Unlike most bivalves, which remain buried in and increase silt deposits. Pollutants and
sediment or cemented to a hard surface, the bay fertilizers enter estuaries through stormwater
scallop can move within its local habitat. Rapidly runoff and wastewater and are toxic to marine
opening and closing its shells to expel water can systems. Propeller scars on bay bottoms reduce
lift the scallop from the seafloor and into strong, available seagrass habitat that provides critical
quick-moving currents. However, it can only keep structure and protection for juvenile and adult
up this jet propulsion for a short time before bay scallops.
expending its energy and dropping back down to Once a local population is depleted it may be
the bottom. unable to recover on its own, even with improved
water quality and a carefully managed harvest. A
Threats to Bay Scallops scallop population’s ability to replenish itself
relies on retaining its own larvae or from water
Even as adults, scallops live a precarious
currents delivering larvae from neighboring
existence. Their mobility and occasional camou-
populations. As habitats become more fractured,
flage—algae and other organisms that attach to
the likelihood of larvae moving between
their shells—provide only a limited defense
neighboring scallop populations declines.
against predators. Blue crabs, stone crabs,
Researchers hope that as seagrass beds recover
octopus, starfish and large snails, such as tulips
in many of Florida’s estuaries, the links between
and whelks, can crush or pry open scallop shells.
local populations will improve.
Environmental conditions—including rainfall,
temperature changes, winds and tides—influence
food availability and other factors in scallops’ Research
survival. Bay scallops prefer waters with salinities Scientists at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Con-
ranging from 20 to 38 parts per thousand. Large servation Commission’s Fish and Wildlife
amounts of rainfall and freshwater runoff Research Institute conduct a variety of studies to
decreases the salinity rapidly, which can kill assess bay scallop populations. Every year before
them. Since they generally live in shallow water the scallop season opens, researchers survey
depths, high water temperatures can also cause several (10) locations along the Gulf coast. Snor-

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keling or scuba diving, they deploy a weighted Within a local ecosystem, bay scallops supplement
300-meter (328-yard) line called a transect. Two the diet for several marine predators, including
divers swim the length of the line, counting all rays, snails, octopi and crabs. While they are still
the scallops they see within about a yard on each alive, their shells provide refuge for several
side and measuring the size of the first 30 microspecies like tube worms and tunicates, and
scallops they encounter. They repeat this survey once the scallops die their shells break apart and
at up to 20 stations in each location. Scientists become additional substrates as well as add
analyze annual and long-term data and provide minerals like calcium back to the ecosystem.
results to resource managers which they use to Since scallops are directly linked to seagrass
help set harvest dates, locations and limits that beds and are sensitive to declining water quality,
will encourage the natural recovery of bay they can serve as initial indicators of community
scallop populations. For current saltwater fishing degredation, or conversely, of improving
regulations for bay scallops, visit MyFWC.com/ ecosystem conditions.
Marine and select “Recreational Regulations.” In addition to being a dietary supplement and
Scientists are also interested in the larval early-warning indicator, scallops also provide
stage of the bay scallop. Every month, researchers benefits to human communities including
deploy over 100 collectors in grass flats throughout economic, social and artistic. Along the Gulf
the bays and coastal waters of the Gulf of Mexico Coast of Florida, several local communities are
in hopes of catching larval scallops. These bolstered by the seasonal bay scallop recreational
devices—citrus bags stuffed with plastic mesh fishery. Many of the local restaurants, hotels and
and tied to concrete blocks—mimic the seagrass businesses rely heavily on the direct infusion of
blades where spat settle out of the water column. monies from the hundreds of tourists that flock to
After eight weeks, each collector is carefully their community. Both the tourists and local
examined, and the tiny scallops are counted and residents enjoy the relaxation and family fun that
measured. Analyzing the data helps researchers scalloping provides. Many families plan their
determine when and where juvenile scallops are summer vacation around the season and it has
settling (a process known as recruitment) and at become a tradition lasting through generations.
what densities. Finally, the bay scallop is a source of inspiration
for both amatuer and professional artists. The
Importance eye-pleasing shell is a favorite among shell
The bay scallop is an important species within collectors and appears in many beach themed
Florida’s marine ecosystems for several reasons. photographs and paintings.

April 2015

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Fish and Wildlife Research Institute
100 8th Avenue SE, St. Petersburg, FL 33701 • (727) 896-8626 • MyFWC.com/Research

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