Fisherman, farmers in Wakulla County work to share local waters

Posted at 6:03 PM, May 17, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-17 18:03:00-04

WAKULLA COUNTY, Fla. (WTXL) - Commercial fisherman and oyster farmers in Wakulla County are working together to find ways both groups can navigate local waters without issue.

One fisherman described this as a "turf war." He's out in these waters to make a living, while some oyster farmers are just starting out.

But now, there's a push to figure out smooth sailing for everyone.

For generations, fishermen have called these waters home.

But oyster farmers have picked up leases in recent years, adding considerable traffic.

"The issue is our bay is such a small bay, you know? There's not a lot of room here," said John Taylor, President of Wakulla Commercial Fisherman's Association.

"I try not to get in the area they're using," said James Green, Sopchoppy fisherman.

Last year, oyster ranchers told WTXL some of the poles that mark their lease boundaries were ripped out.

"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 you yank it," said Rob Olin, CEO of Panacea Oyster Co-op Operation.

Tuesday, fishermen and farmers met in Sopchoppy to share their concerns.

Both groups agreed to work together to scope out good places for farms in Oyster Bay.

"That makes me feel better, because then, this person will know if they're upsetting the other person because we all have to eat," said Green.

The state's Division of Aquaculture wanted to put 72 farms by the mouth of the Ochlockonee Bay but withdrew that proposal.

"It would've been kind of dangerous, because the current is real bad in there," said Taylor. "Right at the mouth of that river, so I'd hate to see if one of them oyster farmers got hurt." 

The fishermen's association says the state is cracking down on people who haven't used their farms for two straight years and could take their leases away.

Meanwhile, fishermen and oyster farmers will meet May 29 to identify coordinates for where to put the farms.