Scoopin’ ScallopsGrab Yourself a Tasty Treat in the Gulf Waters Near Port St. Joe
By Lori Hutzler Eckert
Bay scallops, those slightly sweet and succulent pearls of seafood found in many local restaurants, offer a variety of culinary temptations, from tasty pasta toppings to the perfect addition to rich, hearty gumbos.
And though I have eaten them in abundance while living in the Panhandle, exactly where they came from and how they were caught had never been top of mind. I just knew I liked them and wanted more.
However, during a recent visit to Port St. Joe, nestled on the Gulf of Mexico between the Emerald Coast and Tallahassee, the managers of Barefoot Cottages, a residential development featuring quaint Florida-style bungalows, arranged for a scalloping trip for my group of guests.
Scalloping in the shallow waters of Port St. Joe’s bayfront is a local pastime that has evolved into a unique tourist attraction. So when the opportunity arose, it seemed like the perfect time to jump in, quite literally, and experience scalloping in the trusted hands of area experts.
The recreational scalloping season runs from July 1 to Sept. 10, and the legal scalloping area runs only as far west as the west bank of the Mexico Beach Canal. (For more specific rules, see myfwc.com/marine/bayscallops.htm.)
With saltwater fishing licenses in hand – obtainable online through the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission or at retailers including Wal-Mart and Bass Pro Shops – our group boarded a 23-foot Beachcat pontoon boat from Seahorse Water Safaris, located in the Port St. Joe Marina. We skimmed across the smooth water less than a mile to prime scalloping territory, a 3- to 4-foot deep area that was actually walking distance from the shore. The location’s dense carpet of sea grass provided the perfect habitat for the petite scallops, hidden within their clam- or oyster-type shells.
Now, using the term “catch” when referring to scallops might lead to false expectations. Those little legless, finless bivalves aren’t really going anywhere fast, so the tools of the trade are quite basic. A snorkel and mask were helpful as we searched for the scallops by “diving” underwater. We simply shuffled our feet through the sand and grass (an act of faith on my part, for sure) to find the scallops and quickly dipped under the warm water’s surface to pluck them from the bay’s floor.
A small net with a long handle helped extend our reach and kept our fingers from experiencing a possible gentle nip from the shells as they protectively clamped together. And finally, a bucket marked to ensure that we each stayed within the 2-gallon legal limit for our catch and an ice chest in which we carried our winnings home were all that we needed to complete a fruitful scalloping expedition.
The boat rental company provided us with ample information on how to clean the scallops, as well as some great recipes for preparing an excellent homemade meal created from a fun and memorable trip.
Here’s the Scoop
Feast at the Fest
Indulge in all kinds of scallops at the 12th annual Saint Joseph’s Bay Scallop Festival Aug. 2 and 3 at Shipyard Cove in Port St. Joe. Enjoy live music, arts, crafts and more. For more information visit gulfchamber.org or call the Gulf County Chamber at (850) 227-1223.
What to Bring If You Want to Dive for Scallops
You will need a mask, snorkel and a small mesh bag. A “diver-down” flag must be displayed from the boat while snorkelers are in the water, or each swimmer must be tethered to a buoyed dive flag. Once you bring them to the surface, place the scallops immediately on ice, unless you plan to clean them while on the water.
How to Cook ’Em Scallops on the Half Shell
Mix stick of melted butter, 2-3 cloves of chopped garlic, juice from 1 lime or lemon, 1/2 teaspoon of seasoned salt and a few shakes (if desired) of your favorite hot sauce. Remove the top shell from scallop, leaving whole animal in bottom of shell. Spoon 1/2 tsp. of butter mixture over scallop, then broil 4” from heat for 3-4 minutes. Do not overcook.
Optional: Clean the scallop leaving only the white meat in the shell. Repeat the above recipe.
Recipe courtesy flseagrant.org