The Franklin County Seafood Workers Association has been busy, moving forward last week on a proposal to address environmental problems plaguing Apalachicola Bay while also working to organize the upcoming $2.7 million program to re-shell the oyster bars.

At a Dec. 6 meeting, the FCSWA fleshed out details of the structure of a new community based collaborative effort - the Seafood Management Assistance Resource and Recovery Team (SMARRT) – which is designed “to build a local capacity consensus to develop a sustainable and resilient resource management plan to ensure the future of Franklin County’s seafood heritage.”

FCSWA President Shannon Hartsfield told the audience of about 40 attendees that research received from experts was being considered by the seafood workers to see which suggestions were feasible.

“When we went and asked for help, we started receiving ample opportunities with the county commission and Workforce,” he said.

FCSWA Vice President Chris Millender outlined his proposal to bring together 15 experts from government and academic institutions, together with local knowhow. Millender proposed SMARRT should consist of 15 workers from the seafood industry - three oystermen, a crabber, two shrimpers, two fishing guides, two seafood dealers, one FCSWA representative, one Franklin County Seafood Dealers Association representative, two commercial fishermen and one clammer.

According to a flyer distributed at the round table, these 15 stake holders have “full voting rights.” It lists the cut-off date for nominations to the SMARRT as Dec. 13.

Joe Shields, environmental administrator for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services at the Apalachicola Shellfish Center, said the proposed committee is, “similar to the Oyster Task Force, which went away. This seems to be something similar. It’s a good thing. Obviously you want as many people as possible involved to make decisions. Maybe with severity of this problem, the answers will be forthcoming.”

Shields serves on the University of Florida Oyster Recovery Team, a group of researchers who are seeking to explore the problems with the fishery. Millender’s proposed SMARRT board would communicate with the task force and other organizations. Any decision would have to receive unanimous support from team members.

“There must be complete consensus,” said Hartsfield. “It’s scary on the bay as it is with the lack of fresh water. Without this SMARRT team, I don’t see what’s going to happen. If we had good communication you have the possibility to make changes.”

County Extension Agent Bill Mahan, a member of the ad hoc committee, said it is uncertain who will tap members of SMARRT.

“It’s very fluid,” he said. “Workforce Florida will pay a facilitator to help establish SMARRT. We’re planning a January meeting to kick this off.”

Along with Millender, the chairman, and Hartsfield, ad hoc committee members include Tommy Ward, who represents the seafood dealers association; Jennifer German, deputy director of Workforce; Angie Lindsey, community outreach coordinator for Healthy Gulf, Healthy Communities, an academic advisory group; Joe Taylor, director of Franklin’s Promise; and Shannon Lease deputy director of the Apalachicola Riverkeeper.

Lindsey said the ad hoc committee will choose the SMARRT representatives. “The main thing the ad hoc is looking for is to have that equal representation of the different parts of the industry,” she said. “Everybody’s here together to address this particular emergency. Seafood workers have been incredible partners about keeping us on task.”

Taylor said the ad hoc committee will not actually choose the board members, “I think that’s going to work itself out at the Jan. 9 meeting,” he said. “That’s why we have hired an independent facilitator to lead that and bring the group to consensus.”

On Monday night, Hartsfield detailed plans for the upcoming oyster relay program, which will pay oystermen $25 an hour for an eight-hour day, for up to six months. He outlined that workers must be fully licensed, and enrolled in Workforce, which is overseeing the program, funded by a $2.7 million federal grant.

In addition, they must pass a drug test, available free at the county health department, and must pass an eight-hour occupational health and safety course, available online, and for which they will be paid. The oystermen will use their own boats, which must be at least 22 feet long.  “If you do not have a boat, you will have to find another person with a boat,” he told the audience at the Eastpoint firehouse.

Both County Commissioner William Massey, and Marcia Mathis, a representative of Sen. Bill Montford’s office, were in attendance, but did not address the gathering.

Hartsfield said initial plans beginning the first week of January are to relay oysters, tonged from permanently closed areas near the river channel, and to relocate them to the west near Green Point Beacon. After two weeks there, the oysters will be suitable for harvest.

Hartsfield also told oystermen that there are paid opportunities to take out researcher on their boats

Taylor told the gathering about help available through Franklin’s Promise. Providing a chili dinner on the cold night were representatives of Carrabelle’s United Methodist Church, accompanied by Pastor Aaron Beaty, and Eastpoint’s First UMC.

Homer McMillan, from Fellowship Baptist Church, was there to distribute 75 blankets, on behalf of the Foundations of Justice, which has received support from ministerial groups in Carrabelle and Apalachicola.