The Florida Senate Committee on Agriculture last month met to hear testimony on the oyster shortage in Apalachicola Bay. “There is clearly a problem we need to solve,” said Senator Bill Montford (D-Tallahassee), chair of the committee. “The bay is no longer producing the volume of oysters that keeps the local economy alive. We need to identify solutions or we risk losing a Florida and national treasure.”
Dr. Karl Havens, head of the University of Florida Oyster Recovery Team, presented a number of issues plaguing the Bay at the Jan. 15 hearing.. Havens explained how low river flow and drought conditions in recent years have led to a high number of oyster predators such as snails, conchs and sponges. These predators would normally be washed out to the Gulf of Mexico but the drought has prevented this from occurring.
The committee also heard from a number of residents of the affected counties. They have been working with the Gulf Coast Workforce Board to put affected oystermen back to work. The Workforce Board hopes that anticipated federal funds will be able to provide employment for residents while also helping to restore the oyster population.
“We need to help our Floridians find work,” said Montford. “The members of my committee and I look forward to helping those currently in need while also finding ways to prevent such a drastic situation from happening again in the future.” Montford also committed that the Florida Senate Committee on Agriculture will review the on-going litigation over sharing the waters within the basin of the Apalachicola, Chattahoochee and Flint (ACF) Rivers.
Montford also recognized the work of Senator Charlie Dean (R-Inverness) as chair of the Senate Committee on Environmental Preservation and Conservation. “I am eager to hear the suggestions of Senator Dean’s committee after they examine this issue,” Montford said. I commit to working with Senate President Don Gaetz (R-Niceville) and members of the Senate and House of Representatives to provide real relief to the many affected Floridians.”
Gaetz said that "restoring our oyster industry is vital to Florida's economy and ecosystem, not only in our Northwest region but also throughout our state. I commend Senator Montford for his steadfast dedication and leadership in identifying sustainable solutions to this issue. I am confident that through his efforts, Florida's oystermen and their families will once again prosper."
Montford represents the Florida Senate’s Third District, which includes the following counties: Calhoun, Franklin, Gadsden, Gulf, Hamilton, Jefferson, Leon, Liberty, Madison, Taylor, and Wakulla. Montford was first elected to the Senate in 2010 and served as Minority Whip from 2010 to 2012. He chairs the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Vice Chair of the K-20 Appropriations Subcommittee on Education and Vice Chair of the K-20 Education Committee.