As a precautionary measure due to a naturally occurring algae bloom in St. Joseph Bay that affects shellfish, the bay scallop harvest originally scheduled to begin on July 25th in Gulf County waters will be temporarily postponed. This postponement includes all state waters from the Mexico Beach Canal in Bay County through the westernmost point of St. Vincent Island in Franklin County. This does not impact other areas currently open for a recreational harvest. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is working closely with partners on this postponement including the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS), which has also issued a precautionary closure for the harvest of clams, mussels and oysters in St. Joseph Bay.
FWC staff is coordinating with the Florida Department of Health, Florida Department of Environmental Protection and FDACS and they will continue to provide support and assistance as necessary. All agencies take all algal blooms seriously and will continue to respond quickly and effectively to ensure the health and safety of Floridians, visitors and our natural resources.
The scallop season is expected to be closed a minimum of two weeks. The FWC will conduct aggressive outreach efforts about the postponed season. The FWC and FDACS 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 on the remainder of the season. More information will be issued once a season opening date has been determined and that date will be posted on the bay scallop page which can be found at MyFWC.com/Fishing by clicking on “Saltwater Fishing,” “Recreational Regulations” and “Bay Scallops.” Reopenings of clam, mussel or oyster harvest will be listed on the FDACS website at http://shellfish.floridaaquaculture.com/seas/seas_centralgulf.htm.
In areas outside of Gulf County, the bay scallop season in state waters from the Fenholloway River in Taylor County to the Suwannee River in Dixie County is currently open to harvest and will close to harvest on Sept. 10. All other waters open to harvest (Pasco-Hernando county line to the Suwannee River and from the Fenholloway River in Taylor County through the westernmost point of St. Vincent Island in Franklin County) will close to harvest Sept. 25 (see map below).
This algae bloom does not harm scallops directly and shouldn’t cause scallop population declines. While scallops may appear healthy, they should not be consumed until FWC has issued a new statement opening the season. This algae bloom should not impact other recreational activities on St. Joseph bay.
Pseudo-nitzschia is a naturally occurring microscopic alga that in some cases can produce domoic acid, which can negatively impact marine mammals and seabirds and can cause Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning (ASP) in humans if contaminated shellfish are consumed. Domoic acid has been confirmed in seawater and scallop samples from St. Joseph Bay. Domoic acid does not impact finfish, but they should be carefully cleaned prior to being eaten. The best way to protect yourself is to heed closure warnings and not consume shellfish in the closed areas.
If you are experiencing symptoms of ASP, contact your primary care provider. You may also want to contact the Florida Poison Control Hotline – 1-800-222-1222. For Department of Health questions, please call 850-245-4250.