Associated Press Release
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- Federal officials are declaring a fishery disaster for Florida's oyster industry in the Gulf of Mexico.
The declaration by the U.S. Secretary of Commerce sets the stage for possible help from the federal government if Congress approves it. That aid could include economic assistance to fishing businesses and communities, including oyster fishermen.
The announcement comes a day before both U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson are scheduled to be in Apalachicola for a field hearing by the Senate Commerce Committee. The committee will take testimony about the impact of water flows in Apalachicola Bay.
The collapse of the oyster industry last year followed a drought that reduced freshwater into the bay. But state officials have also blamed the lack of freshwater flow due to increased consumption in Georgia.
Press Release: NOAA
U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker today declared a commercial fishery failure for the oyster fishery along the west coast of Florida. The fishery resource disaster resulted from excessive drought conditions in Apalachicola Bay and elsewhere in the Florida panhandle during the 2012 – 2013 winter fishing season.
“We understand the economic significance this historic oyster fishery has for fishermen and related businesses in the panhandle of Florida,” said Secretary Pritzker. “Because the drought caused such a decline in oyster landings and a rather significant drop in revenue, the fishery qualified as a resource disaster under the nation’s fishing law.”
Under the Interjurisdictional Fisheries Act and the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the Commerce Secretary can declare a fishery disaster which makes it possible for Congress to appropriate funds to provide economic assistance to fishing businesses and communities, including oyster fishermen, affected by the disaster and to support other activities addressing the disaster.
If Congress appropriates funds to address the Florida oyster fishery failure, the Commerce Department’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will work closely with members of Congress and the state of Florida to develop a spending plan and distribute the funds to help coastal communities and the fishing industry, should funds be appropriated.
Within the last year, landings on the Florida west coast oyster fishery have declined nearly 60 percent, with a 44 percent reduction in revenues. This decline in revenues is an unusual occurrence in this fishery and is not part of a cyclical downturn in revenues. The state of Florida projects that with the continued decline in landings, revenue losses are only expected to increase and remain lower than the historical average until the oyster population begins to rebound.
“It takes three years for oysters to reach marketable size, so we are concerned about this depleted oyster resource that has traditionally supported a viable fishery,” said Sam Rauch, acting assistant NOAA administrator for NOAA Fisheries. “We will continue to work with Congress, the state and oyster fishermen through this challenging time.”
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Press Release: Office of Governor Rick Scott
TALLAHASSEE – Today, Governor Rick Scott announced that the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has approved the Governor’s September 2012 request for a commercial fisheries failure declaration for the ongoing fisheries disaster in Apalachicola Bay.
Governor Scott said, “The federal government did the right thing in approving this commercial fisheries failure declaration. Now we need the support of Congress to provide the dollars necessary to support this region’s recovery. Congress should move with a sense of urgency to provide much needed support for families in the region, so they can get back on their feet and continue providing our nation with the world’s best oysters.”