Editor’s note: The following letter was sent last week to County Commission Chair Smokey Parrish as well as the four other members of the county commission.

I know how hard you and all the other commissioners have worked to protect Apalachicola Bay and the people who work in the seafood industry. So many factors beyond your control have led to the current disastrous situation. However, as the former director of the Franklin County Oyster & Seafood Task Force, I do respectfully suggest that the county endorsement of the Florida State University Marine Lab’s Triumph application may have been rushed.

Some have said that it is a project to build an oyster spat hatchery. It is not. It is a multi-year research project. In other words, more studies on a bay that has been studied for decades. This is the actual FSU project summary (bold is my emphasis):

“We propose to develop the Apalachicola Bay System Initiative (ABSI), a research program that addresses key questions relevant to the status and recovery of Franklin County oyster populations using the following approaches: (1) evaluating the role of oyster populations in the Apalachicola Bay using Earth system-life history models; (2) using an experimental approach to investigate the population-level attributes of oyster populations, including their distribution and abundance (current and past), genetic differences among populations, settlement patterns within the bay, and growth and survival of Apalachicola oysters relative to non-local oysters commonly used in aquaculture.”

The FSU plan has serious flaws. Scientists already know the best salinity ranges for oysters. In plain language the core problem facing the bay and the industry is lack of freshwater, and no amount of research will fix that.

I’m sure that FSU has the best of intentions, but the pre-application looks as if it will provide millions of dollars of salaries to FSU scientists, and almost no direct help to the men and women of the seafood industry. The $8.3 million FSU request could also take money away from many other potential county projects, such as the Armory renovations.

I respectfully suggest that the county commission hold a public meeting on the FSU grant, and seek more details on whether this research project would help local people, or oyster populations. And though I am a strong believer in scientific research, I must ask: what have the tens of millions of dollars of previous studies on the bay really accomplished?

If the industry or the county commission want to embrace oyster aquaculture, that may be a realistic option, given the terrible situation of the bay. But in that case, money should be spent on helping local residents launch aquaculture businesses. It’s already being done in Alligator Harbor. There is no need to pay for, and wait for, $8.3 million of new research.


Kevin Begos