Following a public meeting Wednesday the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is taking under consideration alternatives to closure of St. Joseph Bay to scallop harvesting.

UPDATED: FWC hears alternatives

Following a public meeting Wednesday the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is taking under consideration alternatives to closure of St. Joseph Bay to scallop harvesting.

One emphasis is that the closure involves only closure to scallop harvesting; all other water activities would not be impacted.

A spokeswoman with the FWC said this morning that staff and researchers were digesting the feedback from last night’s meeting and could make a decision on next steps within days.

She emphasized that no final decision on closure of the bay has been made, though that remains the direction the FWC is leaning.

“We wanted to try to get ahead of this and make the public aware of the situation,” she said. “We had a good discussion.”

Among the options presented by locals at the Wednesday meeting were size limits, shortening the season and, looking long-term, options for bringing state and federal funds to bear for replenishing the scallop fisheries in the bay, including potentially farming scallops.

The one that the resonated with FWC staff, the spokeswoman said Thursday morning, was a suggestion to delay an official closure until June when researchers perform their final counts of scallops in the bay.

Check back as additional details become available

The original report from April 27 follows...

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is making plans to close St. Joseph Bay to scallop harvesting during the upcoming season.

The bay will remain open to all other water activities, but scallop harvesting will be illegal.

According to a release from the FWC, research has found the bay scallop population in St. Joseph Bay has been severely reduced due to the impacts of red tide last fall and winter.

As a result, the bay scallop population is too low to sustain and recover from an open harvest season, the FWC release highlighted, and plans were in moving ahead to close harvest season west of St. Vincent Island, including St. Joseph Bay.

This comes after two down years in a row in St. Joseph Bay.

The FWC held a public meeting Wednesday, after press time, to discuss the situation and plans for recovery of the population as quickly as possible.

According to the FWC, a red tide event impacted local waters from September through December last year, the same time period during which scallops spawn and young larvae settle into the seagrasses in the bay.

“As a result the local scallop population appears to have been heavily impacted and may have collapsed,” according to the FWC release.

Research conducted by the FWC’s Research Institute in St. Petersburg has failed to find evidence of any scallop recruitment from the 2015 spawn.

Red tide had not been present in the bay since January.

FWC in partnership with Mote Marine Lab identifies and monitors red tides, evaluates impacts and provides technical support to communities experiencing impacts.

That work is funded through an annual appropriation from the Florida Legislature of $825,000.

Further, collaborations between the FWC and partners have increased over the years, resulting in a coordinated framework for field work, research and outreach.

The press release details that restricting scallop harvest in all waters west of St. Vincent Island could help the St. Joseph Bay scallop population recover faster by ensuring that scallops that did survive the red tide are alive to reproduce this fall.

It would also allow researchers time to implement planned restoration efforts such as stock enhancement, which should aid speedy recovery.