There is plenty hope that the 2017 scallop season will soon open, but Mother Nature can be a reticent partner.

There is plenty hope that the 2017 scallop season will soon open, but Mother Nature can be a reticent partner.

Testing the waters of St. Joseph Bay continued this week by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, but as of press time there was not much change in the high concentrations of domoic acid produced by the microscopic Pseudo-nitzschia alga found in bay scallops.

The concentrations found in the waters, and later scallops, about 10 days ago, remain elevated, according to Amanda Nalley with the FWC.

The FWC will need consecutive negative tests before the agency can entertain opening the bay to scallop harvesting.

And the concentrations must drop in the water before the FWC sets out to test the mollusks for contamination, said Gil McRae, who heads the FWC research center in St. Petersburg.

The initial two-week delay to the season announced the day before the scheduled July 25 opening of the season is up this coming Monday.

The Pseudo-nitzschia alga can, though not always, produce 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.

The incidence of Pseudo-nitzschia in the form that produces the toxin is unusual in Florida, with St. Joseph Bay the lone site of any closures by the state, twice previously.

During the most recent event, 2014, the concentration of toxin contamination was not as high as this year and did not occur close to the scallop season, McRae said.

In the two prior events in St. Joseph Bay, it was six to eight weeks before the water cleared.

Pseudo-nitzschia is common around the world, McRae added, though the production of toxin sufficient to force fishery closures is more prevalent in the Northeast and West Coast of the U.S.

In 2015, a toxin-producing bloom closed shell-fish fisheries – the toxin does not impact finfish – from California’s Monterrey Bay north to Oregon.

As opposed to red tide, Pseudo-nitzschia blooms tend to occur near-shore, not off-shore, indicating that rain events could be a trigger, McRae said.

But, McRae said, the reality the science is still out concerning causal relationships for those Pseudo-nitzschia blooms which produce domoic acid.

Two local theories, he said, likely aren’t significant factors.

One is the Gulf County Canal and the interplay between the Apalachicola River system and St. Joseph Bay (see Page A5).

Another, a causal relationship from the level of septic tanks still operating on the Cape and peninsula and resulting stormwater runoff, would only be a factor if the systems were “older or failing,” McRae said, adding he understood the local concern about the number of septic tanks on the peninsula.

According to the Property Appraiser’s Office, there are 1,107 developed parcels, commercial and residential, along Cape San Blas Road and on out to the peninsula state park.

The city of Port St. Joe installed a main trunk sewer line out to the state park more than a decade ago; there are right at 500 customers on that system.

Regardless of the results of testing in the weeks to come, regardless of when and if the scallop season opens, local officials emphasized that there remains plenty to do on and in St. Joseph Bay.

“The bay is open for business,” Adams said. “Every day is an adventure.”