Oystermen React to FWC Report

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The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is laying the blame for the oyster crisis in Franklin County, squarely on the US Army Corps of Engineers.

In their final report this week to the National Marine Fisheries, wildlife experts say the lack of fresh water coming out of the Apalachicola River is killing the oysters in Apalachicola bay.

The state is hoping for federal relief, but oystermen say federal funds may not be enough to save the industry.

The water wars between Florida, Alabama, and Georgia have been going on for nearly 25 years.

But this may be the first time the battle has had such a devastating impact on an entire industry oysters.

Oysterman Kendall Schoelles says, "It's gone from you know people getting 20 bags a day, the legal limit a piece, to getting two or three bags a day"

Buddy Ward & Sons Seafood Owner Tommy Ward says, "I've lost probably eighty/ninety percent of my business."

The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says the fresh water from Lake Lanier and the Chattahoochee river in Georgia isn't making to the Apalachicola river.

As a result the high salt level in Apalachicola bay is killing the oysters, and other sea life.

The Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for allowing the Atlanta area to take too much fresh water upstream.

Florida Governor Rick Scott says, "You know, it's so disappointing that the corps engineer hasn't solved the problem. It's been devastating to the oyster industry. We put a lot of effort into that area of the state, put money into the budget this year to help them. We need more water flowing through there if we are going to have more oysters".

Franklin County Riverkeeper Dan Tonsmeire says, "Most of our fishing population is out of work. We have a program that is federally funded to help restore the stocks in the bay. Those funds are running out in the next couple of weeks. When those run out, our folks are back out with no income."

The state is hoping the US Department of Commerce will allocate disaster funds for Franklin County.

But oystermen say that may not be the only problem.

Another factor oystermen are pointing to is the harvesting of oysters that are less than regulation size. That's no less than 3 inches long.

Schoelles says, "They just keep taking all the little ones. They don't keep that for their future."

Until that problem is addressed, oysters may still be few and far between.

Ward says, "What i used to unload in a day, it takes a month to get that now sometimes."

Senators Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson. Along with Congressman Steve Southerland, will host a field senate public hearing on the issue August 13th.