Update: Gulf County bay scallop season opening remains postponed

The bay scallop season off Gulf County remains postponed due to a naturally occurring algae bloom in St. Joseph Bay. The season postponement will continue until scallop samples test safe for human consumption.

The bay scallop season off Gulf County was slated to open July 25, but this season was postponed in all state waters from the Mexico Beach Canal in Bay County through the westernmost point of St. Vincent Island in Franklin County.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) staff are sampling scallops from within the bay multiple days a week, but at the time of this news release those samples continue to be unsafe for human consumption.

All other areas currently open for bay scallop recreational harvest remain unaffected, including the popular scalloping areas of St. Marks, Steinhatchee and Crystal River.

This algae bloom should not impact other recreational activities on St. Joseph Bay.

In order to reopen the bay scallop season off Gulf County, scallop samples taken at least seven days apart throughout the bay must test as safe for human consumption. If this occurs, the FWC will work quickly to reopen the season, but will continue to sample scallops on a weekly basis.

FWC staff is coordinating with the Florida Department of Health, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, and Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. All agencies will continue to provide support and assistance as necessary, take all algal blooms seriously, and will continue to respond quickly and effectively to ensure the health and safety of Floridians, visitors and our natural resources.

FDACS had also issued a closure for the harvest of all clams (including pen shells), mussels and oysters in St. Joseph Bay.

The FWC and FDACS will continue sampling and testing scallops and other shellfish in the bay to determine when they are safe for consumption, and will continue to work with the local community to determine options on the remainder of the season.

More information will be issued once a season opening date has been determined and that date will be posted on the bay scallop webpage which can be found at MyFWC.com/Fishing by clicking on “Saltwater Fishing,” “Recreational Regulations” and “Bay Scallops.” For information on reopenings of clam, mussel or oyster harvest visit the FDACS website at FreshFromFlorida.com and search “Shellfish Harvesting Area Information” in the search bar at the top right, select the search result with the same name, then click on “open/close status.”

This algae bloom is not related to red tide (Karenia brevis), does not harm scallops directly and shouldn’t cause scallop population declines. While scallops and other shellfish, such as clams, oysters or pen shells, may appear healthy, they should not be consumed until FWC and FDACS have issued new statements opening the seasons.

ABOUT PSEUDO-NITZSCHIA:

Pseudo-nitzschia, the organism responsible for the bloom and delayed opening of the season, is a naturally occurring microscopic alga that in some cases can produce domoic acid, which can negatively impact marine mammals and seabirds and can cause amnesic shellfish poisoning in humans if contaminated shellfish, including mussels, oysters, clams, and scallops, are consumed. ASP can cause both gastrointestinal issues, such as nausea and upset stomach, as well as neurological issues such as short-term memory loss. Domoic acid has been confirmed in seawater and scallop samples from St. Joseph Bay. Domoic acid does not impact finfish directly, but fish should be rinsed well, filleted and skinned prior to being eaten. The best way to protect yourself is to heed closure warnings and not consume shellfish from the closed areas.

If you are experiencing symptoms of ASP, contact your primary care provider. You may also want to contact the Florida Poison Control Hotline at 800-222-1222. For Department of Health questions, call 850-245-4250.