Seafood workers and oyster harvesters say they are worried about the future of Apalachicola Bay.
The Panama City News Herald ( http://bit.ly/1ykhAT3) reported Saturday that dozens of workers from the oyster industry protested during a Friday meeting of an association created to represent them.
The bay, famed for its oysters, is threatened by both over harvesting and a water supply dispute with Georgia.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Executive Director Nick Wiley cautioned that oyster harvesting in Apalachicola Bay might need to be halted, which could affect thousands of jobs, if newly enacted winter restrictions fail to improve the oyster population.
“It’s very likely that we’re going to have to entertain a possible complete closure of the Apalachicola oyster harvest,” Wiley said during a recent meeting in Kissimmee. “We want to take that very carefully, and only do that if everybody feels that’s what we have to do.”
In August, the state agency implemented new conservation measures for the winter, from closing certain commercial and recreational areas to lowering the number of oysters individuals can harvest.
Since 1990, control of water in the river system shared by Florida, Georgia and Alabama has been the subject of lengthy litigation. Recent rulings have favored Georgia. Last fall, Gov. Rick Scott announced a new lawsuit against Georgia in the U.S. Supreme Court, which has asked the U.S. Department of Justice for advice on whether to accept the case; that decision is pending.
The seafood workers said Friday that restrictions in harvesting could devastate the local economy.
Oysters are going for a record price of $44 per bag, but oystermen say this is because they are not available to harvest.
Oyster worker Angela Cooper told the newspaper that she fears the latest moves could mean the end of small, private oyster businesses. Cooper said the changes will hurt her family. Cooper’s husband also works harvesting oysters.
“I don’t want it closed, unless they’re going to help us. I have no choice but to provide. My kids have to eat and my bills have to be paid,” she said. “We need money now,” Wilson said. “If they don’t have a plan on supplementing our income now, I say open the winter bars and maybe regulate a little more.”
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