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Apalachicola Bay Oyster harvesting suspended until 2025

Published: Dec. 16, 2020 at 6:05 PM CST
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - An Apalachicola Bay staple is off the plate as the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission voted to suspend oyster harvesting for five years.

The commission unanimously approved a recommendation to suspend oyster harvesting through the end of December 2025.

While it’s hard for the community to see the bay shut down, many believe if nothing is done, oysters could be gone forever.

The FWC is calling it an effort to support the recovery and restoration of the oyster population, which has been devastated over the last few years.

According to the FWC, annual harvesting went from 3 million in 2009, to just 21,000 last year.

“At one point we used to get three to four hundred bushels a day or more, and it got down to, we were getting four to five bushels a day, or ten bushels a day, or sometimes none. It was down to nothing,” said Steven Rash.

Rash is the owner of Water Street Seafood. He says they stopped buying oysters from the bay at least three years ago because the population has been so scarce.

That’s why he’s been pushing for a measure like this for years, saying that while it’s a difficult decision, it could be their only hope for survival.

“You can’t just deplete the resource and keep taking and keep taking from mother nature. The bay can produce an amazing amount of oysters, and other seafood as well, if it’s allowed to do so and taken care of and not over-harvested,” Rash said. “It’s a multi-generational fishery, part of the history and the culture of this area. It’s an emotional thing, it’s not that I like to see the Bay closed by any means, but it’s better than killing it completely.”

The FWC received a $20 million grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation for restoration efforts, spanning the five years of suspension.

Commissioners are hoping it can help bring back what used to be one of the Bay’s leading industries.

“Restore the industry and put people back to work, and get this back to the way it was years ago,” said Chair Robert Spottswood.

During Wednesday’s meeting, commissioners said they will continue to monitor the population. If recovery happens quicker than expected, they will have an opportunity to re-evaluate and open up the bay sooner.

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