Keeping the Oyster Industry Afloat [SLIDE SHOW]

By: Julie Montanaro

A family in Franklin County is one of only a dozen in the state of Florida trying to grow oysters from seed.

They think cultivating the tasty shellfish will be the next big wave in the fishing industry here.

Brothers Clay and Ben Lovell don't need tongs to harvest oysters in Alligator Harbor; they wade into the waist deep water and hoist cages from the bottom.

The Lovels are one of only a dozen or so folks in Florida leasing land from the state and growing their own oysters.

They buy tiny baby oysters called seeds or spats, plant them in underwater cages, and wait for them to grow.

"We're talking about what 130,000 to 150,000 pieces actual oysters in the water at this time," Ben Lovel, Cultivating Oysters, said.

They start out about the size of a cornflake and nine months to a year later wind up like this.

"There are a lot of fishermen who are struggling to make a living on the water, and I think this could be a real good source of income for them. It's a real hopeful industry," Clay Lovel, Cultivating Oysters, said.

Oysters that aren't big enough are simply put back to grow some more.

Oysters that reach the three inch mark will soon be bound for the Lovel’s family owned restaurant in Spring Creek.

The Lovels eventually hope to market these by the dozen to the high end half shell market.
For now they are tending to 500 cages and keeping an eye out for sharks.

The Lovels are having an oyster tasting at their restaurant next week.

The head of Florida's Aquaculture Division thinks it is the first bay to table oyster operation in the whole state.

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