The following letter, from the Franklin Board of County Commissioners was written this month to Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

Dear Mr. Putnam:

The Franklin Board of County Commissioners is very concerned over the future management of the Apalachicola Bay oyster industry. It appears to the board that the state, who has been actively managing the bay for at least the last 30 years, is now trying to extricate itself from bay management just when the bay needs it the most.

It is no secret that oyster harvesting has plummeted in the last few years. At a recent public meeting, University of Florida researchers announced oyster production on the natural bars has dropped to five bushels per acre. For sustained commercial harvesting, the productivity of the bay should be 300 bushels per acre. Active, intense, management is needed now if the bay is ever to return to sustainable productivity.

And yet, now, through legislation to be introduced this session, and through decisions made by the FDACS (Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services) and other state agencies, the state is proposing to shed itself of the responsibility of licensing oyster harvesters, and is not planning on any more shelling programs to replenish the natural bars. Now, in the bay’s collapse, the state of Florida is walking away from managing the bay and the oyster industry.

The Apalachicola Bay oyster has been the benchmark all other oysters are judged against. It is the premier oyster from the Gulf of Mexico. State oversight and management needs to be maintained. Current proposed legislation has the city of Apalachicola becoming the licensing entity for oyster harvesters. If the city were to issues licenses, the license would become nothing more than a piece of paper as the city does not have the resources to take over management of the bay. If the city were to issue licenses, then who would permit re-shelling efforts in the bay, as the city does not have jurisdiction in the bay?

The state of Florida needs to continue to issue licenses, collect funds, and invest those funds in the oyster industry. If the state does not want to be responsible for keeping a trust fund for the purpose of future re-shelling then the state could reduce the licensing fee. Or, keep the fee as is, and remit the funds above administrative costs to the county for future county re-shelling programs.

If FDACS is determined to remove itself from management of the bay, then please direct your staff to work with the county on other options besides the current proposed legislation of transferring the licensing responsibilities to the city of Apalachicola.

Sincerely,

Joseph “Smokey” Parrish, chairman

Franklin CountY Board of County Commissioners