The window of opportunity for a 2017 scallop season in St. Joseph Bay is steadily closing.

 

The window of opportunity for a 2017 scallop season in St. Joseph Bay is steadily closing.

With scallop contamination from a domoic acid still approximately two times the safe threshold for consumption after testing last week, the postponement of the season remained in effect.

Since that contamination level must clear and be found cleared in consecutive testing regimens seven days apart, the postponement, which began on the eve of the July 25 opening of the St. Joseph Bay season, will continue for at least another two weeks, based on a press release from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

“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,” the release read in part. “If this occurs, the FWC will work quickly to reopen the season, but will continue to sample scallops on a weekly basis.”

The FWC is currently testing twice a week, on Mondays and Thursdays.

Last week during Thursday’s testing, scallops at St. Joe Point and Eagle Harbor tested at 36.6 parts per million and 44.5 ppm, respectively, for domoic acid resulting from an algae bloom.

That is roughly double the federal threshold for consumption, said Amanda Nalley, a spokeswoman for the FWC.

With the season originally scheduled to close in St. Joseph Bay Sept. 10, and the statewide season closing two weeks later, time is running out for waters and scallops to clear of contamination in order for the FWC to even consider opening the season.

“The FWC and (Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services) 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 for the remainder of the season,” a press release detailed.

FDACS issued a closure in the bay for the harvest of all clams, including pen shells), mussels and oysters July 22.

The FWC followed with postponement of scallop season July 24.

Local tourist officials have become pessimistic about a season actually taking place in 2017, which for some in the community would not be a bad thing as it would allow more time for a restoration project to take hold and the population to rebound from a collapse recorded last year.

The algae bloom, Pseudo-nitzschia, was first detected in water samples tested July 21.

Not all Pseudo-nitzschia blooms, which occur naturally, tend to be near-shore and could be caused by excessive rainfall, according to FWC researchers, result in domoic acid contamination.

The bloom is also different from red tide (Karenia brevis). A large red tide bloom late in 2015 impacting juvenile recruitment that winter and resulted in a compressed season and bag limits in 2016.

Pseudo-nitzschia does not harm scallops directly and FWC researchers have indicated it should not impact population numbers, which rebounded more than three-fold in advance of the 2017 season.

Domoic acid, when produced by such blooms, can cause gastrointestinal and neurological issues in humans who have consumed tainted shellfish.

St. Joseph is the only area in Florida which has been closed due to Pseudo-nitzschia-caused domoic acid contamination; researchers hypothesized that due to the bay’s relatively-closed geography the bay is not able to “flush” out the contamination leading to higher concentrations.

The two prior instances of the the bay’s closure for shellfish harvesting, which arrived out of scallop season, required six to eight weeks to clear.

The season’s postponement in St. Joseph impacts no other scallop harvest area and does not impact activities other than shellfishing in the bay.

Finfish are not directly impacted by domoic acid; fish should be thoroughly cleaned, filleted and skinned prior to eating, but are otherwise safe for consumption.