Wakulla Fishermen Call for End to Leasing

Wakulla Commercial Fishermen
Posted at 5:00 PM, Jan 26, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-26 17:55:57-05

PANACEA, FL (WTXL) -- Fishermen in Wakulla County are concerned about the rise in the amount of leases on their waters.

The leases provide boundaries as to where fishermen can and cannot go to get fish. Poles and barriers indicate assigned zones. Some fishermen say their boats have been damaged by them, claiming poor visibility due to a lack of lighting and the tide changing sea levels.

"It's killing all of us up here," said Albert Hartsfield, vice president of the Wakulla Commercial Fishermen's Association (WCFA). "They've blocked up channels and everything."

"It seems like it's just running the fishing industry out," added local fisherman James Green.

Fishermen say the state keeps giving leases out, which zones off territory they've used for years.

"Now, they want to put it in front of the sandyards -- the leases," Hartsfield said. "That ain't right."

"Don't put my guys out of business," said John Taylor, president of the WCFA. "They need this water to make their livelihood."

Three months out of every year, the fishermen are out in the waters -- often away from home and their families. They say the leases restrict access to the fish.

"The fish did not migrate the way they were supposed to, because of the traffic," Taylor said. "It pushed them off shore."

"I lost about $30,000 this year," Hartsfield said.

The fishermen say the leases have gone to groups like the TCC Environmental Institute. WTXL took an exclusive look at TCC's oyster farm program in January 2016.

"Growing a fine oyster that we're growing will be in demand always," said executive director Bob Ballard in that report.

But fishermen say that demand comes at their expense.

"I do not want TCC's program to fail, but there's got to be a stopping point at this," Taylor said, "because you can't take all of our fishing grounds and put us out of business."

A town hall meeting about leasing was held Thursday evening at the Wakulla Welcome Center in Panacea. County commissioners, the Florida Department of Agriculture and TCC were invited to attend.

WTXL spoke with Ballard over the phone Thursday. He said TCC has been involved in several similar meetings before -- and claims the leases his students have were already agreed to by stakeholders in the past.