APALACHICOLA, Fla. (WMBB)– At its December meeting, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) approved changes to help with restoration and recovery of oysters in the Apalachicola Bay system.
These changes include the temporary suspension of all wild oyster harvest and the prohibition of on-the-water possession of wild oyster harvesting equipment from Apalachicola Bay through Dec. 31, 2025.
Lynn Grainer was born and raised in the Apalachicola area, and grew up in the fishing industry, but in his 79 years he says he’s never seen the industry like the way it is now.
“I’d never thought I’d see the day when it is like it is right now. There is no oysters in the bay,” Grainer said.
Grainer recalled a time in which it was the main industry for many locals in the area.
“When I was a teenager there was more oysterman here than…and now it’s not their anymore, it’s all gone,” Grainer said.
The Apalachicola Bay, which once supplied more than 90 percent of Florida’s oysters, has been on life support for nearly a decade due to drought, overharvesting and, according to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation officials, excessive water use by Georgia.
13-mile seafood owner Tommy Ward said he wishes the state took action sooner.
“I feel like that it should have been closed years ago when you still had a few oysters in the bay,” Ward said,
Ward said he and many others are still facing challenges from Hurricane Michael, and although he’s able to import oysters from Texas and Louisiana, he said nothing compares to the ones in the Apalachicola.
“Apalachicola is world famous and we had some of the best oysters around,” Ward said.
Although Ward said he is upset about the news, he is hanging on to hope that the area can be restored.
“If they manage it right it may have a chance to come back, we’ve been getting a lot of rainfall, the river has been up good, and we’ve been getting a good mix of freshwater,” Ward said.
Grainer said he’s still skeptical.
“I don’t think you’re gonna have enough freshwater, you’ve got too many dams, Grainer said.
State officials said they know what this means for the industry and hope to see results made soon.
“We are going to be monitoring throughout. so, if we achieve success sooner, and hit our target goals to allow for harvesting before five years, we certainly would be bringing that back. I promise you that would be the first thing on the agenda if that occurs,” said Eric Sutton, Executive Director, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
In addition, the FWC said they received a $20 million commitment from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Gulf Environmental Benefits Fund to conduct large-scale restoration of oyster habitat in the bay.
These funds will be used for a 5-year project that began in 2020, which includes developing a stakeholder-informed adaptive management plan for the oyster fishery and restoring its natural habitat.
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