At its July meeting, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) approved draft regulation changes to further support restoration and recovery of oysters in Apalachicola Bay.
Historically, nearly 90% of Florida’s and 10% of the nation’s wild oysters came from Apalachicola Bay. But the Apalachicola Bay oyster population has been declining since 2013 after years of low water flow conditions.
Despite the FWC and many partners taking a number of steps to improve the status of oysters in the bay since 2013, downward trends in abundance continue. Today, Apalachicola Bay oyster abundance is at a historic low and conserving existing oysters and their habitat is of high importance.
The draft rules discussed by the Commission today, if approved again in October, would temporarily suspend all harvest of wild oysters from the bay and prohibit on-the-water possession of wild oyster harvesting equipment (tongs) through Dec. 31, 2025, or until 300 bags per acre of adult oysters can be found on a significant number of reefs.
While the Commission will make the final decision on whether to implement these changes at the October Commission meeting, they directed staff to proactively suspend all harvest of wild oysters through an Executive Order effective Aug. 1, 2020.
The proposed rules would not apply to oyster aquaculture operations.
“Apalachicola is a gem of a place and it is one that has been decimated,” said Commissioner Rodney Barreto. “I feel for all the fishermen and businesses there. We will continue to be emotionally and scientifically available to this community throughout this process.”
The FWC will continue to monitor recovery of oysters and re-evaluate whether limited harvest opportunities may be available earlier than anticipated.
In addition, the FWC received a $20 million commitment from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Gulf Environmental Benefits Fund to conduct large-scale restoration of oyster habitat in the bay. These funds will be used for a 5-year project that includes developing a stakeholder-informed adaptive management plan for the oyster fishery and clutching (the spreading of shell to restore oyster habitat) on 1,000 acres of oyster reef habitat.