The talk last week was about working to nurse Apalachicola Bay back to health, as seafood workers focused on ways to rejuvenate the oyster bars and get people back to work.
The Franklin County Seafood Workers Association hammered out a recommendation at its March 11 meeting to lower the daily bag limit to better spread out the harvest that begins June 1 when the summer bar open.
FCSWA President Shannon Hartsfield said the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has asked for input on the best way to control the summer harvest.
Hartsfield said the 15-member Seafood Management Assistance Recovery Team (SMART) has discussed trying to change the bag limit, and making East Hole into a summer bar. He reminded the rank-and-file who filled the courthouse annex that a five day a week season, with all oysters brought in by 2 p.m., were necessary rules.
“If we go back to seven days and don’t give this bay a chance to come back, it ain’t going to come back,” he said. “If we don’t start monitoring ourselves, we’re not going to have a bay.”
Hartsfield said the SMART group wants to recommend a daily limit well below the current 20 bags per licensed cardholder, which in July switches to 20 bags per vessel.
A voice vote indicated the oystermen want an eight bag limit per license, in June, July and August, an apparent compromise between the six- and 10-bag recommendations.
“The price will drop down,” said one oysterman. “You don’t flood the market so the price stays high. We all know there’s oysters and they’re on the river bars. We want to try to make it last the whole three months.”
The move to ask for a lower bag limit was prompted by a perception that too many licensed partimers are infringing on the livelihoods of fulltime oystermen.
One man described how the “the moochers, the opportunists” take off from their regular jobs in June to make money when the summer bars open.
“They work all year long, save up vacation, and they take the whole first week off,” he said. “They take the crème of the crop and they leave us holding the bag. “Y’all stealing from our kids, that’s our time to put money in the bank.”
The FCSWA also moved to recommend that the recreational limit be lowered to just two bags over a weekend, about one-quarter of what it is now.
The group split on whether to go along with a view held by the seafood dealers to have the five-day week extend from Sunday through Thursday, so they can easily fill orders at the beginning of the work week.
“We have to give leeway to the dealers,” said Hartsfield.
Others, like Eastpoint businessman Rex Pennycuff, thought it important to preserve Sunday as a day of rest.
“It’s a great step towards family values if parents were home on Sunday with their kids,” he said.
The SMART board is expected to consider the recommendations at their Monday meeting. The composition of that board, which works closely with University of Florida food science professors, includes Hartsfield, seafood dealers Tommy Ward, David Barber and Lynn Martina; oystermen Eugene King, Darrin Polous and David Gilbert Sr.; fishing guides Coy Shiver and Runt Sapp; clammer Fred Jetton; flounder fisherman William Massey; crabber Anthony Coulter; and the FCSWA’s Dink Turner.