Forty years ago this week, a crackdown by the
Oystermen claim a ‘frame up’
More than a dozen oystermen “slept” on the steps of the
“We were told by the marine patrol we could go oyster on Cat Point and we would not get stopped,” said George Langley. “We took their word and they caught every one of us, plus $20,000 worth of fines. One of them was with us when we were catching oysters. He tied our boat to his boat because our motor was flooded out. It’s sneaky, tricky and downright dirty. We want justice.”
“We slept on the jail porch,” said Fred Lively. “They arrested about 15 of us, all from one seafood house. We were all on different boats.”
Langley and Lively were among a group of men who were waiting for a ride back to Central Seafood in Eastpoint after posting bond, Tuesday, shortly after 8 a.m. They told the Times that one of their comp-anions Rodney “Butch” Nowling was still in the sheriff’s department waiting room being processed.
“They (FMP) planted pot on his boat,” said Arvil Davis. “There was nothing on his boat when they searched it last night.”
“They searched the boat, last night, and they found nothing,” said Wayne Nowling who is Butch’s uncle. “But this morning, they say they found Marijuana.”
At the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), of which FMP is a division, the director of information, Duane Bradford said, “Allegations of improprieties are currently under investigation. Until the investigation is completed, we will have no further comment.”
From statements made by oystermen-either outside the jailhouse or later at Central Seafood- the Times pieced together the alleged course of events, which started at sundown, Monday, when the Central Seafood crew was sitting on one of the decks, behind the oyster house fishing with rods.
“He (FMP officer) approached me and told me to go to work,” said Wayne Nowling.
Tony Nowling (
Butch and Tony’s father R. J. Nowling alleged it was not the first time the officer had offered them protection. All three officers and others gave the name “Tracy Noble.”
Attempts were made by the Times to contact Noble but no telephone listing was found. DNR Information Director Bradford, when asked where Noble could be located said: “He cannot discuss this case by law.
The arrests took place after the men had returned to the oyster house.
“How can they charge them with being in closed water when they arrest them at the dock?” J. Nowling commented.
Harvesting oysters is against the law between sunset and sunrise. Also, harvesting can be done only in “open” areas, so designated by the Department of natural Resources (DNR) of which FMP is a division. Cat Point is a “winter” area and is presently off limits.
The regulations are set up by DNR, the seafood regulation the seafood industry to assure that only oysters fit for consumption reach the market. Another reason is to give the oyster beds a chance to regenerate.
Other unscheduled closures of
Each time the bay is closed to harvesting, not only does it put oystermen out of work, it also affects people employed in other processing jobs.
“They close the bay and they try to starve us until they build these d… condominiums,”
At one point, while still at the jailhouse, while most men were talking at once
This follow up article appeared the next week.
Dealer association backs DNR
Thirty-five oystermen recently arrested for violating the harvesting curfew and other infractions have failed to attract the sympathy of their law-abiding colleagues.
“If the (
These feeling were overwhelmingly shared by others who earn a living from the meaty bivalve harvested from the bay. Annie Mae Flowers, the new association president signed the following “open letter to all oystermen, oyster dealers, and all others who are concerned about saving
“By unanimous vote of a quorum of the membership of the Apalachicola Bay Oyster Dealers Association, we are in total support of recent actions taken by the Flroida Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to enforce regulations prohibiting the harvesting of unculled oysters, harvesting oysters in closed areas and harvesting oysters after dark or before daylight.
“We are sorry that some fishermen have lost their boats. But we also recognize that the fines alone are not enough to prevent these serious oyster conservation violations from taking place repeatedly in the recent past. In the long run, it appears to us that something other than fines will need to be developed as a sanction. We offer to work with the Seafood Workers Association, DNR,
“The day has come when we in the oyster industry must go on record in strong and unequivocal opposition to “tonging in the hole” and other violations that are depleting and destroying our Bay’s precious oyster resources.
“Every dealer and every oysterman is here (by) put on notice that no support will be given to any person who violates these oyster conservation laws.
“On behalf of the Association…” - Annie Mae Flowers President.
The stand taken by the association came in the aftermath of two raids made by the Florida Marine Patrol (FMP)
The first raid started shortly before 1 a.m., Aug. 28, resulting in the arrest of 15 oystermen. All were charged with possession of unculled (not sorted to return undersized specimens to the oyster bar). Thirteen were charged with transporting oysters between sunset and sunrise and oystering in closed waters. The other two were written up for “oystering during closed season.” Other charges were related to equipment and permits, plus one drug charge. Five boats were seized.
Two days later, August 30, 20 more oystermen were arrested after having g been caught harvesting in a “winter area” of
Not unlike hunting, oyster harvesting is regulated as to location and time of year. There are “winter” and “summer” areas while other places are closed at all times, such as the delta of the
When oystermen break the law, they undermine what others have worked hard to achieve, according to Vinson. Asked to comment on the actions of the 35 recently arrested oystermen, he said, “I’m opposed to that (illegal harvesting) because we have fought for a summer program and now I am opposed because I asked and received money for the relay program and I contributed to the community chest so when these people have hard times they can have food to feed their families.”
When Vinson was president of the Apalachicola Bay Oyster Dealers Association, he was among industry representatives who asked and received legislative appropriations for “relaying”-relocating oysters from a polluted area of the bay to another sector where the water was not contaminated.
Not only was money obtained used for salaries of oystermen participating in the relaying work, shortly after this was done, the relocated oysters had cleansed themselves and were fit to be harvested for consumption.
The relay program took place last spring in the midst of a month’s unemployment for oyster workers at all levels when the bay was closed due to several polluting causes, such as sewer spills and excessive rains causing run-off.
The president of the Franklin County Seafood Workers Association, Fred Jetton, said that in the case of the second round of arrests, the difficulty in delineating the line may have been a factor.
“I don’t know how far these men were off the line,” he said. “That’s between them and the marine patrol.”
Due to problems in knowing where the line is and resulting conflicts between oystermen and patrol officers, several months ago, the association recommended the bridge be used as the boundary instead of the current imaginary line between two buoys.
Jetton said a public hearing on the proposal is scheduled for September 7 at 7 p.m. in
Regarding nighttime oystering, Jetton said:
“Dealers and workers don’t condone tonging in the hole. Most of the county would agree that night-time oystering has to be stopped.”
Jetton, who earns his living harvesting oysters, added that most oyster workers abide by the law.
“We try to do right,” he said. “But there are a few who break the law.”
According to Jetton, the 1984 legislature appropriated $100,000 to plant additional oyster bars. The oyster embryos are born without a shell and live for about ten days trying to find shell to adhere to. If none is found, the organism falls to the bottom and dies.
“Planting” oyster bars – placing empty shells on the bottom of the bay-, allows more embryos to survive, increasing the harvest at maturity, about a year later.
There is a need to increase the yield of the bay, according to Jetton:
“More and more permits are being sold. Oysters are a really big industry, now. I think we made some really good progress in our planting program.”
“We work with DNR and they’ve been working with us. We had some problems with the management plan and the trip tickets but I think that’s all going to work out.”
The management plan referred to by Jetton was recently presented by DNR officials to oyster people who rejected the plan. It concerns a new method of determining when the bay should be closed because of the possibility of pollution harmful to oysters as a product for sale for human consumption.
“Trip tickets” are to be filled out by oyster harvesters and oyster houses in order to provide a means of tracking the origin of an oyster batch in case of illness by consumers. According to DNR officials, the data provided would also be helpful for research being done to improve the industry.