In a search for answers to a declining oyster population, it was a packed meeting at the Apalachicola Community Center on Thursday.
The meeting was an open forum which provided healthy debate for those who depend on the struggling seafood industry.
"Right now, I don't see a rainbow over that hill," says oyster man Shannon Hartsfild in regards to Thursday's meeting. However, he says it was still beneficial. "Its baby steps," says Hartsfild.
Thursday afternoon, the University of Florida Oyster Recovery Team discussed research and findings with those who depend on the Apalachicola Bay.
"Different agencies have been collecting samples over a decade, but the data hasn't been brought together and looked at by an independent outside group," says UF scientist Karl Havens. "And that's what we're doing."
Havens is looking specifically at nutrient inputs of the Apalachicola Bay. Thursday, he said the bay is lacking essential nutrients.
"The water from the river has nutrients in it that at high levels can be harmful," explains Havens. "But at low levels, they are needed to support the food web." Therefore, Havens says, "essentially the food that is supporting the whole community is being cut off and stunting the growth of a lot of things."
Havens also says for the past two years, historical low flows of water have been flowing into the Apalachicola Bay. "Because there's less fresh water coming in the Bay, it gets salty, because water comes in from the Gulf of Mexico," says Havens. "And when the bay gets salty, predators come in from the Gulf of Mexico,who normally live in salty water, and they start eating the oysters."
Also brought up Thursday, the vision of S.M.A.R.R.T., an initiative brought forth by an oysterman himself.
S.M.A.R.R.T, which stands for Seafood Management Assistance Resource and Recovery Team is still in the works, but those behind it want a team made up of about 15 stakeholders.
"Everything that gets caught in this bay, is going to be on that roundtable, including dealers," says Hartsfild. Those stakeholders would have full voting rights and make key decisions regarding the Franklin County Seafood Industry.
Those interested in becoming a stakeholder, nominations are open until December 13th. Contact the Franklin County Extension Office to do so.