Today, Florida wildlife authorities voted to suspend wild oyster harvesting in Apalachicola Bay through the end of 2025.
As a last ditch effort to conserve the existing oysters and their habitat, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission voted unanimously on the closure of the area at Wednesday’s commission meeting. Despite providing nearly 90% of Florida’s wild oysters and 10% for the rest of the nation, Apalachicola Bay has been on life support for nearly a decade due to over harvesting, draught and excessive water use from the state of Georgia.
Officials say oyster numbers in Apalachicola Bay have been declining since 2013 and are now at a historic low.
The closure will not apply to oyster aquaculture operations.
Wild oyster harvesting was actually suspended in the area since August, after an emergency executive order was put into place. Officials at Wednesday’s meeting finalized that decision, but added that they will continue to monitor the bay to see if harvest opportunities will become available sooner than 2025.
To aid in this effort, the FWC also announced a $20 million grant to help conduct large-scale oyster habitat restoration from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Gulf Environmental Benefits Fund, which receives money from a settlement with BP and Transocean over the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.
“These funds will be used for a 5-year project that began in 2020, which includes developing a stakeholder-informed adaptive management plan for the oyster fishery and cultching (the spreading of shell to restore oyster habitat) on 1,000 acres of oyster reef habitat,” says the FWC.
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