FRANKLIN COUNTY, Fla. (WTXL) — The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has unanimously approved a plan to suspend commercial and recreational harvest of wild oysters from Apalachicola Bay for five years.
The emergency rule suspending harvesting will go into effect on Aug. 1.
If the proposed plan is approved, harvesting and on-the-water possession of wild oyster harvesting equipment, such as hand tongs, would also be prohibited through December 31, 2025.
The rules only apply to wild oysters and do not apply to oyster aquaculture operations. Staff will return for a final public hearing at the October Commission meeting.
FWC’s large-scale restoration project will be ongoing on for five years and the largest portion of funding, nearly $17 million, will go directly toward forming 1,000 acres of oyster reef habitat.
The Apalachicola Bay and the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River (ACF) basin, according to FWC officials, are essential to oyster reef development in the area as the ACF basin provides an important source of freshwater for Apalachicola Bay.
North Florida's oyster fisheries dates back to the 1800s and at one point produced 90 percent of Florida's oysters and 10 percent of the nation's oysters.
Since 2013, harvest has dropped dramatically. That drop has been attributed to low freshwater flow into the basin, fewer adult oysters each year, high juvenile mortality, and natural degradation of existing reefs.
Additionally, the dockside value of wild oysters harvested from Apalachicola Bay has declined by 98 percent since 2012.