WAKULLA COUNTY, Fla. (WTXL) - Law enforcement officials are still working to find the person or people responsible for vandalizing 16 oyster leases in Wakulla County last weekend. A $10,000 reward is being offered for any information that leads to an arrest.
Poles that mark the lease boundaries were ripped out of the ground, causing thousands of dollars in damage. Some of the oyster ranchers in the area say it feels like a targeted attack on their industry and their way of life.
"This is an attack against 16 individuals but it's also an attack on the industry as a whole because it could happen to any of us, and it's a felony to remove anything from these leases," said oyster rancher Cainnon Gregg.
Robin Olin, CEO of the Panacea Oyster Co-op, says 57 poles were yanked out. He doesn't think the timing or the location of the crime is a coincidence.
"It would've taken a good bit of time. To yank one of those poles out that the state puts in, you need a couple really strong guys or tie the thing to a boat and yank it. It's an effort," said Olin. "You're putting hard working people, entrepreneurs, out of work."
Since the vandalism occurred, some have looked to the Wakulla Commercial Fisherman's Association. The group has been outspoken against expanding the industry here, even requesting a state moratorium on new leases.
However, the Wakulla Commercial Fisherman's Association President John Taylor released a statement this week, saying: "The Wakulla Commercial Fishermen’s Association Inc. and its members respect the right of everyone to earn a living from the waters of Wakulla in harmony with others earning their living from Wakulla’s waters. We condemn the theft or destruction of any equipment used for commercial fishing or farming in Wakulla County waters, and any illegal activity which harms the endeavor of others. We support efforts to apprehend and convict anyone engaged in such illegal conduct."
Ben Lovel, a Panacea Oyster Co-Op employee who used to be a commercial fisherman, weighed in: "I think this is just growing pains. Once everybody gets educated and learns the benefits for both the commercial fisherman and the oyster ranchers, it'll take care of itself."
Wakulla County Sheriff's deputies and Florida Fish and Wildlife officials continue to investigate the vandalism.