Feds Approve Disaster Relief For Oyster Industry

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UPDATE 2-27-14

Michael Millender runs Island View Seafood in Eastpoint. The Franklin County native knows first-hand how the oyster devastation has impacted businesses.

"I can't hardly make no money off of oysters because I'm not even selling none," said Millender.

The conditions of the bay aren't just having impacts on oystermen but retailers and distributors as well.

The $6.3 million might be coming to the bay area, however, some locals are worried that money won't be helping those who really need it.

"It needs to be distributed down to the oystermen that go out there and work," said oysterman Mark Smith. "It don't need to be funneled through this and that and the other through twenty hands."

"It helps a certain elite," said Millender.

More than 2,500 jobs have been affected since the summer of 2012. Something that weighs heavily on the minds of those on the bay.

"It's like the dinosaurs, They're slowly going extinct and it is sad. This is a way of living," added Smith.

Associated Press News Release

APALACHICOLA, Fla. (AP) -- Apalachicola Bay and Florida's oyster industry are going to get some financial assistance from the federal government.

State and federal elected officials said Wednesday that the U.S. Department of Commerce has approved $6.3 million in disaster assistance funding.

Gov. Rick Scott said the money can be used to help the restoration of Apalachicola Bay and assist affected oystermen.

Last year, federal officials declared a fishery disaster for oystermen in the Gulf Coast. The collapse of the oyster industry followed a drought that reduced freshwater into the bay.

But state officials have also blamed the lack of freshwater due to increased consumption in Georgia. Oysters need a mix of both fresh and salt water.

Florida last fall filed a lawsuit against Georgia with the U.S. Supreme Court over water consumption.

News Release: Governor Rick Scott's Office
February 26, 2014, 6pm

Tallahassee, Fla. – Today, Governor Rick Scott announced that the U.S. Department of Commerce has approved $6.3 million for Apalachicola Bay in disaster assistance funding. The funding is for the affected oyster industry which can be used to help the restoration of the Apalachicola Bay and affected oystermen. This disaster assistance funding follows Governor Scott’s request for a commercial fishery failure.

Governor Scott said, “This $6.3 million in assistance funding will help to provide immediate assistance to strengthen both Franklin County and the entire Apalachicola Region. We will be able to help the families of our oystermen devastated by the collapse of Apalachicola Bay, and provide job training so families in the region are able to support their loved ones for generations to come.”

Press Release: Senator Bill Nelson's Office
February 26, 2014

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Help is on the way for the depressed oyster industry in Florida's Apalachicola Bay thanks in part to U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL).

Since 2012, the lawmaker has pressed the U.S. Department of Commerce for prompt financial assistance for the oyster industry that has been decimated by lack of freshwater.

And today the Commerce Department announced it is awarding $6.3 million in disaster funding to Apalachicola Bay’s oyster industry, which can be used for economic recovery efforts such as job training and oyster bed restoration.

“The thousands of oystermen hurt by this disaster will finally get some much-needed help,” said Nelson. “It’s not enough, but it’s a good start.”

The oyster industry began a downward spiral in the summer of 2012, when decades of reduced freshwater access due to the ongoing Florida-Georgia-Alabama water dispute began to take its toll. The situation was also exacerbated by persistent drought.

Sens. Nelson and Rubio held a field hearing in the Bay area last summer to draw attention to the oystermen’s plight.

Before the disaster, the Apalachicola Bay produced 90 percent of Florida’s oysters, and ten percent of oysters nationwide. The disaster has already affected 2,500 jobs in the Bay area, and that number is expected to rise.

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