Scientific monitoring of bay scallops in St. Joseph Bay indicates that the bay scallop population has declined severely due to impacts of red tide. As a result, the bay scallop population is too low to sustain and recover from an open season for scalloping this summer. To help ensure the bay scallop population can recover as quickly as possible, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is making arrangements to cancel the 2016 harvest season in state waters west of St. Vincent Island including St. Joseph Bay.
To provide more information about this situation and address questions, FWC is hosting a meeting starting at 5 p.m. Eastern Time, Wednesday, April 27 at the Gulf County BOCC Meeting Room, Robert M. Moore Administration Building, 1000 Cecil G. Costin Sr. Blvd. in Port St. Joe. FWC research and management staff will be on hand, along with representatives of local government, to field questions about the pending season cancellation and the plan to speed recovery of the local scallop population and minimize economic impacts.
A red tide bloom impacted waters off Gulf County from September through December of 2015, which is also when scallops spawn and scallop larvae settle in that area. As a result the local scallop population appears to have been heavily impacted, and may have collapsed. Monitoring efforts conducted by the FWC’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute have been unable to find evidence of any scallop recruitment to St. Joseph Bay from the 2015 spawn. Red tide has not been present in St. Joseph Bay since January 2016.
FWC, working in cooperation with the Mote Marine Laboratory, identifies and monitors harmful red tides, evaluates their impacts, and provides technical support for communities experiencing impacts. These efforts are made possible through an annual appropriation of $825,854 approved by the Florida Legislature and Governor Rick Scott.
On top of this, collaborations between FWRI and its partners have increased over the years, resulting in a tightly coordinated framework of fieldwork, research and outreach efforts. Restricting the scallop harvest in all waters west of St. Vincent Island could help the St. Joseph Bay scallop population recover faster by ensuring that any scallops that did survive the red tide are available to reproduce this fall. It would also allow FWRI scientists time to implement restoration efforts such as stock enhancement, which should help speed recovery.