ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (FOX 13) - As scallop season begins, some charter captains are preparing to come home empty-handed after new numbers released by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission show lower populations than last year.
"My spots were just empty. No scallops. Maybe two or three. The grass beds look dark and brown. Like a little ghost town underwater," commercial charter captain Karen Hughart said.
Last year in Citrus County, FWC recorded 21 scallops per 200 square meters. This year, they only recorded four per 200 square meters.
"Their abundance is highly variable year to year due to a variety of factors including predators, food and habitat," FWC spokesperson Michelle Kerr said.
Water quality is also a major factor. The cleaner the water, the higher the likelihood of population growth.
Hughart, who owns her own commercial fishing business, has decades of experience hunting for scallops, which usually brings a few thousand dollars in revenue, but this year she doesn't expect anything.
"I was kind of expecting it, but it was just disappointment. And I've seen this before and I know what to expect and I know what's going on. They are very clean little animals. They have to have clean water. They can't have any water with pollution in it," Hughart said.
Scallops typically have a lifespan of six months to a year, which means the population can improve in a short period of time. Despite a grim short-term outlook, Hughart is holding out hope.
"It's sad but I'm just trying to stay positive and hopeful," she added.
Scallop season has already started in Hernando and Citrus counties. In Pasco County, scallop season begins Friday.