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FWC proposes suspending wild oyster harvesting in Apalachicola Bay

Fishermen oystering in Apalachicola Bay at Indian Pass, Fla.
Posted at 12:57 PM, Jul 03, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-04 19:15:01-04

FRANKLIN COUNTY, Fla. (WTXL) — The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is proposing a five-year ban on harvesting wild oysters from the Apalachicola Bay area.

The FWC says the ban would help with efforts from other organizations to restore the oyster population to the bay.

Commercial fishermen have been harvesting oysters in the area for many years.

But with a steep decline in the oyster population, organizations, including the Florida State University's Coastal & Marine Laboratory, say drastic measures need to be taken.

"There aren't many oysters down there at the moment," said Dr. Sandra Brooke with FSU's Coastal & Marine Laboratory. "The allowable catch has gone down from—it used to be 20 bags a day back before 2012 ... I've heard they were down to three bags a day."

The FWC said Apalachicola Bay once produced 90 percent of Florida’s commercial oyster harvest and about 10 percent of the product for the entire nation.

FSU's Coastal & Marine Laboratory and FWC both received a combined total of $28 million earlier this year to help revitalize the oyster population in Apalachicola Bay and establish new oyster beds.

Despite their efforts monitoring thousands of acres of oyster reefs, they say production in the area remains low because the oysters that are being produced aren't surviving to adulthood.

That's why they're proposing suspending all harvest of wild oysters in the Bay through December 31, 2025.

"We're not just looking at it from an oyster perspective, but from a system perspective," explained Dr. Felicia Coleman, who's also with FSU's Coastal & Marine Laboratory. "How healthy is the Apalachicola Bay? And that's the problem."

If approved, the order would also prohibit the possession of wild oyster-harvesting equipment on the water.

Commercial and recreational oyster harvesters in Apalachicola Bay, seafood dealers, and restaurants will be impacted by the temporary closure and oysters also have a significant ecological impact on Apalachicola Bay.

However, the Apalachicola Riverkeeper is in support of the idea and says many commercial seafood dealers and fishermen in Franklin County are too.

"It is vital for the recovery of oysters that the State of Florida implement such a management plan to ensure the long-term viability of important fisheries, especially the oyster industry," the group wrote in a blog post. "Let’s ensure a healthy Apalachicola Bay for decades to come. Closing the bay to wild oyster harvesting is an essential first step."

The FWC will discuss the proposed ban in a virtual town hall meeting on July 22. To see their full agenda, click here.