The Gulf County Tourist Development Council Advisory Committee adopted a rapid response plan during its regular meeting last week to address the possibility the 2016 scallop season will be cancelled by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

The Gulf County Tourist Development Council Advisory Committee adopted a rapid response plan during its regular meeting last week to address the possibility the 2016 scallop season will be cancelled by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

A final decision on the season will be made by the FWC, which intends to hold local public workshops this month and next, in June.

The Board of County Commissioners last week passed a resolution sent to the FWC suggesting alternatives to cancellation, such as size limits, smaller bag counts or a shorter season.

Jennifer Jenkins, TDC executive director, confirmed that FWC officials would conduct their regular scallop surveys of the bay in June and present those findings at an FWC meeting June 22-23, after which a decision would be made.

Currently, scallop season is set to open Saturday, June 25.

The rapid response messaging adopted would be provided to TDC partners who interface with visitors, providing a consistent message to those with concerns about red tide or a lack of scallops.

“Gulf County is an outdoor playground,” the messaging said. “Nature is unpredictable and surprising. It’s what makes St. Joseph Bay special … it’s different every day.”

The rapid response rollout would serve to save existing summertime lodging reservations, get locals comfortable with the verbiage and seep into the regional and national media.

According to several members of the board who operate rentals in the area, cancellations were already coming in from families who planned to enjoy scalloping excursions over the summer, but were putting those trips on ice after hearing about the “bay closures” from local and national media outlets.

According to one lodging partner, the experience was reminiscent of the slew of cancellations that followed the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Jenkins said news stations out of Panama City were still erroneously reporting red tide in the bay.

“The true fact is that St. Joseph Bay is not closed,” Jenkins said. “Scallop season has not been canceled and there is no red tide in the bay.”

While advisory board members discussed both the economic pros and cons to canceling the season, they agreed to keep the messaging positive while the FWC conducted its next round of surveys.

Jenkins said the “business growth” messaging would start with the locals.

“We have got to get out ahead of it,” she said. “People saying the bay is closed is inaccurate and untrue. We don’t want to talk about scallops. Our messaging is that the bay is open.”

Advisory board chairman David Warriner shared concerns that without the proper messaging, guests who arrived to find scallop season had been closed would feel lied to.

“If they show up to scallop hunt and they can’t scallop hunt, they’re going to be (ticked) and call us a bunch of liars,” Warriner said.

Jenkins said she was researching a potential satellite media tour that could help spread the rapid response message onto major television and radio networks to help assuage concerns, and was currently working with the county administrator to find funding.

Because the TDC doesn’t market in the summer months, no extra money was budgeted for use during the season.

Jenkins added that dipping into the TDC’s reserve funds could negatively impact the organization’s budget for the next fiscal year.

The TDC’s last satellite media tour, following the 2010 oil spill, carried a price tag of more than $100,000.

“I need to assess the damage,” Jenkins said. “We need to be smart about the markets and messaging for a (media tour).”

Advisory board Vice President Tony Whitfield encouraged partners and locals to focus on other things to do in the bay, such as fishing, snorkeling or kayaking.

Committee member Charlene Burke, operator of About Fun Fishing Charters, runs scallop-focused adventures each summer and said over the last few years, those who went hunting rarely were successful in finding any scallops, yet families still enjoyed the experience.

Burke also worried that a lack of scallop season could put increased pressure on the fish populations.

The advisory committee planned to hold regular meetings until the FWC had made its decision; the next is scheduled for today at 2 p.m. ET at the Gulf County Welcome Center.