Apalachicola Crossroads

The panhandle is full of many treasures. For decades Apalachicola benefited from a thriving seafood industry, but the last few years haven't been kind.

High gas prices, monster storms and rising real estate taxes aren't the foundation early settlers used to build Apalachicola, but those are the realities the city's current residents deal with as they struggle to make their way in a changing community.

The invention of refrigeration, accessible transportation routes, and a bay that naturally sustains itself; everything fell into place in the early days to create Apalachicola's seafood industry, but just like the changing waters that flow down the Apalachicola River into the bay, this town has been forced to change with the times.

Joseph Parish, seafood plant manager, says, "As people move into this area they overvalue the property, which then causes your property value to rise, which in turn makes your taxes rise and the overall cost of maintaining the industry has become very great."

When Smokey Parish started working with Buddy Wards and Sons Seafood 30 years ago there were eight other seafood processing plants on this block. Now they're the lone survivor.

"In reality, when these people bought the properties in the commercial fishing zone, they know what they were buying when they bought it, they utilized it for the last 40 to 50 years just for seafood and now they are ready to cash in their chips."

It explains why across the street from the shrimp plant there's now single family housing.

So why not jump on the real-estate boom bandwagon? Because for some oystering is a way of life. Chances are if you've eaten oysters in Florida it was harvested right here in the panhandle.

Apalachicola Bay accounts for whopping 90 percent of Florida's oyster output and 10 percent of the nation's supply. Add in shrimp, blue crab, and fin-fish, amd the industry brings in more than $11 million worth of seafood to these dock each year.

More than half of Franklin County's population makes a living off the seafood industry, but the business is hurting.

"After Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita the price of fuel went up to $3.00 where is was $1.75, so it almost doubled in the fuel cost."

It’s making it almost impossible for shrimpers to compete against foreign competitors, and that was just the beginning. The storms brought in red tide killing millions of fish and bringing the oyster industry to a complete halt.

Grady Leavins, Leavins Seafood owner, says, "The red tide was in this bay so long. Since oysters are filter feeders, not only is it in their digestive tract, that it's been disbursed in the oyster itself."

As of now, the Florida Wildlife Commission still has the Apalachicola Bay closed to oyster fishing. If the seafood industry overcomes these battles and even survives on a smaller scale, where does the town of Apalachicola go from here?


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