APALACHICOLA, Fla. (WMBB) — Apalachicola Bay was once dubbed as Florida’s richest oyster grounds, harvesting millions of pounds per season.
“We are oysters, we exported 90% of the oysters sold in Florida and 10% of the nation’s,” Apalachicola City Commissioner Anita Grove said. “Five to 10 years ago, you would see semis lined up on 98 getting ready to go to New York City and go all over the Northeast. They were some of the best oysters in the world.”
But those oysters are dying out, leaving many workers without jobs.
“Our oysters are just not coming back on the wild reefs. There’s hardly no harvesters working because they’re just not there. They’re not making enough to go out there to get them,” local restaurant owner Lynn Martina said.
John Fuller, the sales manager in charge of dealing oysters on the bay at Barber’s Seafood, says the oyster bars are vacant where they used to be lined with fishing boats, and they’ve had to let go of a lot of people.
“A lot of people’s not working today because we can’t get oysters to even show up or put on the trucks. It’s very bad. It’s real bad,” he said. “We can’t get nothing out of the bay right now. One guy went out one day this week, had 49 pounds. So it’s real bad.”
Dale Turner was one of those workers left without work.
“I was a lifelong oyster-man until about two, two and a half years ago,” Turner said. “I had to quit oystering because I just can’t make a living on 40 or 50 pounds of oysters a day, nobody can because if anybody will look, there’s no boats left on the Apalachicola Bay. They can’t catch enough to even eat, much less sell.”
It’s an issue that’s alarming community leaders, and they’re now taking action to restore the bay.
Florida State University has just assembled a 23-member advisory committee to embark on a 10-year initiative to revive the region’s oyster industry. The project is funded by a grant from Triumph Gulf Coast, Inc.
Grove was one of the 23 chosen to serve on that board.
“I’m looking forward to to being on this committee developing a broad-base plan that considers the oysters, the resource, the bay,” she said. “And then, you know, how to get back to where we were because we have a population who likes working for themselves. They have grown up working on the water, they enjoy it. I mean, it’s it’s paradise here. It’s a wonderful, hard way. It’s a hard way to earn a living but a wonderful way to earn a living.”
Martina owns own of the most popular oyster restaurants on the city, Lynn’s Quality Oysters. She will also join the committee.
“I’m third generation in this business, and I would love to see it come back. If it would just come back to where it was when my mom and dad were here. They were here 28 years. And we had 40 harvesters, 25 ladies shucking, and we worked around the clock,” Martina said. “I don’t do that anymore. We only have the raw bar.”
The new advisory board will meet for the first time on October 30th in Apalachicola at the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve Nature Center.