Flood Waters Wash Out Apalachicola Bay's Summer Oyster Harvest
Aug. 04, 1994
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) _ Flood waters that devastated the Florida Panhandle have obliterated Apalachicola Bay's summer oyster harvest and are threatening the lucrative winter season, officials said Thursday.
Hundreds of oysters harvesters will be out of the work at least three months in the worst blow to the region's shellfish industry since hurricanes in the mid-1980s.
Many people who rely on the bay for their livelihood said they are seeing their worst fears unfold from the flooding that swept down from south Georgia and the Panhandle last month.
''The summer bars are pretty much gone,'' said Donnie Wilson, a third- generation oysterman who owns a seafood processing business in Apalachicola. ''It's almost as bad as the hurricanes.''
The bay provides anywhere from 75 percent to 90 percent of Florida's oysters and an estimated 10 percent of the nation's supply.
State officials closed the bay in early July when fecal coliform bacteria in its waters exceeded levels considered safe for human consumption.
Rains and floods from Tropical Storm Alberto that poured into the bay have killed about 90 percent of the oysters in areas where summer harvesting is allowed west of the St. George Island Bridge in Franklin County.
Things could get worse.
Larger areas where the busy winter harvesting is allowed are showing signs of damage, which could limit the number of days harvesters can work and how many bags they can take from the bay when the season begins Oct. 1, officials said.
John Gunter, a shellfish biologist with the state Department of Environmental Protection, said the water quality has almost rebounded enough to reopen the bay next month, but it probably will remain closed until the winter season begins because there isn't much to harvest.
''There are some live oysters left in the summer areas but probably not enough to make it commercially sustainable,'' Gunter said. ''We are into that level of this being a worst-case scenario.''