Florida and Georgia to blame for oyster loss – Atlanta Journal Constitution
The 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster threatened to spread oil from Texas to Florida and kill every shrimp, snapper and oyster in the Gulf of Mexico. Oystermen in Florida freaked out and, joined by fishermen from as far away as Texas, scraped every possible oyster — legal-sized or not — from the bottom of Apalachicola Bay.
The still-poor condition of the bay and the oyster industry serves as the crux of the water war trial underway in this coastal New England town. Ralph Lancaster Jr., the special master assigned by the U.S. Supreme Court to remedy the 27-year-old interstate dispute, will ultimately decide who is to blame for the industry’s collapse.
The trial’s first week ended Friday with a detailed examination of oyster fishing and Florida’s role in allowing the long-term degradation of the industry. It resumes Monday with the same focus.
Florida says a lack of freshwater coming down the Apalachicola River from Georgia is to blame for the bay’s poor health. Georgia counters that over-fishing and lax management of oystering rules caused the damage.
Few dispute how much the industry suffered. Nearly 500 oystermen routinely fished the bay five years ago. Today, maybe 100 do. Oyster catches are down at least 75 percent since the Deepwater disaster. Fishermen can’t fill more than four bags daily. Sales last year didn’t reach $5 million.
Florida points fingers at Georgia for not allowing enough water from the Chattahoochee or Flint Rivers, or various aquifers and streams, to reach the Apalachicola River and, ultimately, the bay. Oysters need a healthy mix of fresh and salt water to thrive.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers controls the amount of water flowing into Florida from the Jim Woodruff Dam that straddles