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Scallop season may see big changes in 2018

Right from its chilly beginning, 2018 promises to be a year of elemental challenges. Here are some key areas to keep an eye on in the coming year:

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 Boaters and paddlers make their way along the Salt River last year. Water quality and policy will continue to be among the county’s greatest environmental priorities in 2018. Matthew Beck

Boaters and paddlers make their way along the Salt River last year. Water quality and policy will continue to be among the county’s greatest environmental priorities in 2018. Matthew Beck

The manatee population has been increasing over several years, prompting the U.S. Department of the Interior last year to downlist the West Indian manatee from endangered to threatened. An estimated 6,620 Florida manatees comprised the population in March, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced the change. “FWS biologists emphasized that the downlisting will not diminish any existing federal protections that will continue to play a vital role in the recovery of the species,” a March news release said. “The manatee will also continue to be protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.” Those protections will remain in place in 2018, including seasonal slow speed zones and off-limits areas in rivers and springs — and readers can rest assured that the controversy over their reclassification will remain, too.

Another Citrus County staple, scallop season, may see changes, too. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, or FWC, is considering a new schedule for when people can harvest the tasty bivalves. If the changes are approved, the season in waters off Citrus County will start later — July 10 instead of July 1 — and end sooner, on Sept. 10 rather than Sept. 24. The new dates won’t go into effect unless FWC commissioners approve them at a final meeting in February. FWC spokeswoman Amanda Nalley said in early December that comments gathered during meetings in Citrus County supported starting scallop season after the Fourth of July weekend to help ease boating traffic on local waters.

In addition to date changes, there may be competition for traveling scallopers during the 2018 season: FWC is also considering opening a recreational scalloping season for Pasco County for the first time since 1994. Pasco County commissioner Mike Wells brought the idea to the FWC; Nalley said in October that other stakeholders had requested consideration of the possibility as well. To open a season in Pasco, a draft rule would have to go before the FWC commission twice.

Save Crystal River, Inc. intends to continue its efforts to remove Lyngbya from local waters and plant native aquatic vegetation to restore water quality and manatee habitat; the group submitted an appropriations request for the 2018 legislative session requesting $3 million from the state to further the project. “We know the project is working,” Steve Lamb, vice president of the group, said in August. “We could be the poster child for restoration projects.”

Canals off the Homosassa River could see similar efforts thanks to a similar request for $2 million in state funding submitted by the Homosassa River Restoration Project Inc. group. A similar request was vetoed by Gov. Rick Scott after successfully passing through both the Florida House and Senate. The request has the backing of state Rep. Ralph Massullo of Lecanto, who filed the bill in the House. “They’ll start in the canals and work their way out to the main springs,” Massullo said. “There’s a lot of support for projects that impact the environment, including water-related projects.”