Well, that was not the start county officials would have liked.

Well, that was not the start county officials would have liked.

Jennifer Adams was hoping Tuesday morning would be a celebration of the arrival of the 2017 scallop season, with media exposure for the big event.

Instead, the executive director of the Gulf County Tourist Development Council and her team were along access points to St. Joseph Bay, putting the best face, for visitors and media alike, on a difficult situation.

By the time this story reaches hands and eyes, it will be no breaking news that the state delayed the start of scallop season for St. Joseph Bay by at least two weeks.

And given the history of similar events, that two weeks might be optimistic.

The announcement came late Monday afternoon, less than seven hours before the season’s scheduled Tuesday start.

The postponement came after testing by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission revealed the presence of a naturally-occurring alga bloom which, while not injurious to fish, is dangerous for humans who consume tainted shellfish.

The FWC characterized the postponement as a “precautionary measure.”

The delay impacts only the waters of Gulf County from the Mexico Beach canal to St. Vincent Island.

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) also issued a precautionary closure for the harvest of clams, mussels and oysters in St. Joseph Bay.

But, local tourist officials emphasized, scallop harvesting is only one of a host of activities the bay provides.

“The bay is open for business,” Adams said. “If you were going scalloping, you were probably snorkeling. Go snorkeling. Every day is an adventure.

“We are in active education mode. There is no definitive date to open the season. We are doing everything we can to manage the problem.”

The timing could hardly have been worse, as County Commissioner Phil McCroan stated, saying he was in “disbelief” that the state would act on the eve of the season.

But Steve Shea, regional director for the FWC, told the Board of County Commissioners Tuesday there was not much the agency could do.

Testing by the FDACS, which is typically done in the middle of each month, Shea said, revealed the bloom only last Friday.

The FDACS immediately issued a closure for the bay harvest of mussels, clams and oysters.

Shea said that roughly half the time such an alga bloom does not impact scallops, so the FWC had to undertake its own testing of the scallop population.

The results only arrived Monday, showing contamination levels sufficient to harm humans and thus call for the delay the scallop season.

The microscopic Pseudo-nitzschia alga, in some cases, produces a domoic acid which can negatively impact marine mammals and seabirds and can cause Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning (ASP) in humans if contaminated shellfish are consumed.

Symptoms develop in the first 24 hours after consumption and include nausea and vomiting. In severe cases, within 48 hours of consumption, dizziness and headaches can appear.

In very rare cases, the poisoning can be fatal.

The acid does not impact finfish, but they should be carefully cleaned before being eaten, Shea said.

The FWC will need for two consecutive tests, undertaken every six days, to turn up negative for contamination before the scallop season could open, hence the 14-day minimum delay, Shea said.

But recent history provides some leavening for optimism.

“This is a very unusual alga,” Shea said. “The only closures from it in the state were in St. Joe Bay.”

That, he said, could be caused by St Joseph Bay being more of a closed bay than similar bodies of water, allowing higher concentrations of the bloom and acid.

The previous closures due to Pseudo-nitzschia were in 2013 and 2014, Shea said, adding that in those cases it took six to eight weeks for the water to clear.

“Closure could be for an extended period,” Shea said. “We will work with the county on how long the season will be open.”

Commissioner Ward McDaniel expressed the frustration of several board members.

“Read between the lines and we are not going to have a scallop season this year,” McDaniel said. “That is terrible, but it is what it is.”

Safety, Commissioner Freddie Whitfield said, trumps other considerations.

“Public health needs to come before anything,” he said.

The FWC will continue to testing and working with the FDACS and the Florida Department of Health.

One bit of silver for the local scallop population is that the bloom, unlike red tide which impacted the scallop population in late 2015-early 2016, does not harm scallops directly and shouldn’t cause a decline in numbers, Shea said.

The second year of a restoration project is already underway as last week staffers from the TDC and FWC were on the water collecting scallops to be caged to facilitate more efficient spawning.

Shea said there are more than 2,000 scallops, some spawned off-site in a lab, caged in the bay.

“The restoration efforts are moving in a positive direction,” Shea said. “(The population) is definitely on the comeback trail.”

And, for some locals, the fact that the season, if it occurs, will be a little later in the summer is not a bad thing for the population, reducing the chances that too-young scallops will be harvested which in turn bolsters spawning chances come winter.

But don’t tell that, McCroan suggested, to those who arrived in Gulf County this week ready to hunt.