This past August, oyster harvest in Apalachicola Bay was suspended by executive order. It shut down a decades-old industry that provided nearly 90 percent of Florida’s and 10 percent of the nation’s wild oysters. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, at its December meeting, approved the plan to rebuild the bay’s collapsed oyster population. It calls for a suspension of harvest through Dec. 31, 2025.
For the next five years, wild oyster harvest in the Apalachicola Bay system is prohibited as well as the on-the-water possession of wild oyster harvesting equipment (tongs). The proposed rules do not apply to oyster aquaculture operations.
Despite the FWC taking a number of steps to improve the status of oysters in the bay, abundance has been in decline since 2013. Today, Apalachicola Bay oyster abundance is at a historic low and conserving existing oysters and their habitat is of high importance.
“Closures are difficult and a last resort for us,” said Commission Chair Robert Spottswood. “The good news is the grant we are working with will hopefully allow us to restore the bay and fishing industry, putting people back to work and getting back to where we were. I wish this effort success.”
The FWC will continue to monitor recovery of oysters and can re-evaluate whether limited harvest may be available earlier than anticipated. The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation has committed $20 million to conduct large-scale restoration of oyster habitat in the bay. These funds will be used for a five-year project, which includes developing an adaptive management plan and cultching (the spreading of shell to restore oyster habitat) on 1,000 acres of oyster reef habitat.