Wakulla Fishermen Call for Oyster Leasing Halt

Wakulla Fishermen Call for Oyster Leasing Halt
Posted at 6:00 PM, Mar 14, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-16 07:23:06-04

SPRING CREEK, FL (WTXL) -- Commercial fishermen in Wakulla County are asking state officials to stop handing out leases for oyster farms, saying not all of the existing leases are being used.

For many local fishermen, they've spent much of their lives working out on the waters, but with recent leasing, they're concerned about losing business and the hazards of physical barriers.

WTXL had an exclusive tour of Spring Creek, an entryway into well-used channels for fishermen in the county.

The Wakulla Commercial Fisherman's Association (WCFA) said it's seen more boundaries in the waters, as evidenced by more leases being issued by the Florida Department of Agriculture.

"They didn't contact us from the get-go and see where to put this stuff," said WCFA president John Taylor. "They're in the low-water channels that we use."

In the past few years, the channels have seen more signs, poles and cages -- physical barriers that could cause harm.

"If you ain't used to the area, and you're running through there, the other stuff that's there -- you would run all over on high water and either tear your boat up or get hurt more," said commercial fisherman Kelvin "Shorty" Robbins.

"We want to downscale this a little bit, and let's see what happens," Taylor said. "Don't take up more grounds and put my guys out of business for something that ain't making no money yet."

According to the Florida Division of Aquaculture, 38 leases were issued in Wakulla County in 2015 -- but only five planted oysters, and just three actually harvested or sold them.

Closer inland is where recreational fishermen gather, but much further out is where the commercial fishermen make their living. They now find themselves battling for space they've had for generations.

"There are spots out here now that I used to be able to go flounder, used to be able to go oyster," Robbins said. "And I can't do it no more, because they got the places clogged up with oyster leasing."

"This is what I chose to do," Taylor said. "I don't want to give it up."

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission recently surveyed the waters -- and is working to resolve issues with the fishermen.

WTXL is also awaiting a statement from the Florida Department of Agriculture in response to the WCFA's call for a moratorium on oyster leases.