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FWC Suspends Apalachicola Bay Wild Oyster Harvesting Until 2025

Two young men use large metal "tongs" to hoist oysters up onto the boat they're standing on. A young woman sits on the boat next to them.
Mark Wallheiser
/
AP Photo
In this April 2, 2015, photo, Gene Dasher, left, and Frankie Crosby, center, use wire baskets on the end of 14-foot handles to tong oysters while Misty Crosby separates clumps of oysters at Apalachicola Bay, near Eastpoint, Fla. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation will shut down wild oyster harvesting for as long as five years. The Commissioners hope that the pause and $20 million in restoration and monitoring, will restore a portion of the oyster fishery.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has approved a plan to suspend wild oyster harvesting in the Apalachicola Bay until December 2025. It's a last-ditch effort to restore the bay's oyster population, which has dramatically declined thanks to water flow issues and overharvesting.

Franklin County Commissioner Ricky Jones is opposed to the move. He says families count on oystering for their livelihood and worries the closure could have a lasting impact on that.

"Apalachicola Bay oysters [are] a brand. It is a market, and the longer it's off the market, that's going to be a market share that's gone—not sure what it would take to ever get it back once people find another source," Jones says.

Gulf County officials argued earlier this year, Indian Lagoon shouldn't be in the suspension. Gulf County Commissioner Patrick Ferrell says it's a small area used by locals.

"There's no commercial operation. These are families, people that have done it for generations. They consider it their right. Also, farm-raised oysters are $1, $1.45 apiece, and some of our people don't have that much money to go buy oysters," Ferrell says.

An FWC report shows officials found few adult oysters or spat during a recent visit to Indian Lagoon. The FWC included Indian Lagoon in the Apalachicola Bay oyster harvesting moratorium.

During the five-year suspension, the FWC hopes to reestablish the oyster population by putting old oyster shells and other materials in the bay for baby oysters to settle on and grow—a process called "clutching." The FWC says it will spend nearly $17 million on clutching. That money comes from a grant by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.