An economic injury declaration seeking loans for small businesses affected by the collapse of the commercial oyster industry in the Florida Panhandle was approved Friday by the U.S. Small Business Administration.
The declaration was requested Oct. 23 by Gov. Rick Scott, who cited a historic decline in the oyster supply of Apalachicola Bay.
Franklin, Gulf, Liberty and Wakulla counties are included in the declaration. Small businesses, small aquaculture businesses, small agriculture cooperatives and most private nonprofit organizations in those counties will be eligible for as much as $2 million in low-interest loans, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration.
The group’s lead public affairs specialist in its office of disaster assistance, Mark Ihenacho, said that affected businesses were immediately eligible to apply for the loans, but Friday it wasn’t clear how many would.
The loan amount a business receives will depend on its credit history, income and insurance status, Ihenacho said.
“By law we’re required to make sure that anybody who gets the loan has the ability to repay the loan,” he said.
The deadline to apply for the loans is July 31, 2014. The EIDL assistance will be made available to those businesses and owners who cannot provide for their own recovery from non-governmental sources, as determined by the U.S. Small Business Administration.
According to background data accompanying Scott’s request, area seafood dealers estimated that they lost between 23 and 62 percent in revenue in 2012, compared to the year before. The decline was far less severe for grocery stores and motels that provided date, in the single digits.
Also, the seafood dealers that provided data estimated that it would be at least two to three years before their operations would resume to normal.
The oyster shortage has been attributed to a lack of freshwater flowing into Apalachicola Bay. In a news release Friday, Scott said approval of the economic injury declaration was a “great victory in our fight for the Florida families who rely on our commercial oyster industry to make a living.”
“We will keep working every day to ensure that every Floridian in the Apalachicola area can support their families as we continue to work on behalf of this important industry,” he said.
Scott’s efforts and the declaration’s approval drew praise Friday from a handful of federal, state and local officials.
“Governor Scott has demonstrated his commitment to making sure that Floridians in the Panhandle can keep their livelihoods by working to find solutions for our commercial oyster industry,” said state Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, whose district includes the four affected counties. “There is no doubt that today’s announcement is a step in the right direction, but there is still a lot of work to be done.”
In Apalachicola, County Commissioner Pinki Jackal thanked the governor and the Florida Division of Emergency Management. “We must continue to fight to help the families of the Apalachicola area,” she said.
Anita Grove, executive director of Apalachicola Bay Chamber of Commerce, offered thanks to the work of Scott and the approval from the Small Business Administration. “Floridians who live and work in the Apalachicola area will get help from the damage to the oyster industry and can be sure that their families and businesses are protected,” she said.