BAY COUNTY, Fla. (WMBB) — The Scallop Sitter Program, put on by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Bay County’s IFAS Extension, aims to give locals a helping hand in scallop restoration.

They do this by giving residents their own set of shellfish to track and take care of from June to January.

The first year they organized this in 2019 they had great results, but each year since then, has dealt with complications.

IFAS Extension Director, Scott Jackson, stated that this time around, “We saw salinity levels drop, and we saw the increase of mortality, and we had a lot of dead scallops.”

COVID scrapped the 2020 season, and the 2021 season was a washout due to near-record rainfall.

The 2022 season has now been cut short for the sitters due to a combination of a very wet July and August, and Hurricane Ian.

“Right before the storm last week before Ian made its turn towards Florida’s southwest coast we went ahead and made the call to go ahead and release the scallops that could be released safely and encourage the volunteers to do that… at the time the weather forecast for Ian looked like we were going to have to be prepared for storm surge and so we did not want the scallops riding out the storm in a confined cage,” explained Jackson.

Despite volunteers’ data collection being halted, Jackson said the data they have collected throughout the season will still be useful.

“I think that the data the Scallop Sitter collects is almost as valuable as the scallops themselves, the data helps us refine the process and target what restoration areas there might be, as far as priorities in the future,” said Jackson.

The IFAS office is working with the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI) on a new grant to help develop models pinpointing areas within the bay for optimum scallop restoration.

Jackson added that the grant application might take longer than expected, as most resources are now focused on the hurricane damages in south Florida.