The federal fishing waters off Bay County's shores could reopen to anglers as early as next week, according to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration official.
Peter Hood, a fishery biologist, said NOAA scientists have collected all the necessary samples and are currently awaiting test results.
"The samples have been completed, and we could have the test results at the end of this week," Hood said. "Sometime next week, we'll be able to make a decision."
He said seafood in the closed areas must pass two types of tests before the waters may be reopened: sensory testing and chemical testing.
"With sensory testing, we're looking at how the fish taste and smell," Hood said. "The chemical data is taken from the flesh of the fish, and we're looking for any of about a dozen compounds exceeding certain levels established by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration)."
Once the samples are collected, the information is tested at a laboratory in Seattle, he said. The results are returned, and NOAA must then coordinate with several state and federal entities, including the FDA, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Council.
"We're not going to reopen these waters unless we have FDA concurrence," Hood said.
He said the season on red snapper could be reopened if it is determined that the quotas for snapper caught have not been met before the season ended on July 24.
A decision on whether to extend the snapper season will be made during the Gulf Council's Aug. 16-20 meeting in Pensacola. .
The current July 22 fishery closure remains in place, after NOAA announced a reduction in the area of federal waters previously closed to fishing.
All commercial and recreational fishing including catch and release is prohibited in the remaining closed area; however, transit through the area is allowed.
The closed area now measures 57,539 sq mi (149,026 sq km) and covers about 24 percent of the Gulf of Mexico exclusive economic zone.