Governor Rick Scott was in Eastpoint Monday morning to announce a $3 million investment. He says the monies, mainly targeting water improvement projects, will restore the ailing oyster industry.
"Clearly when one community in Florida hurts, we need to show up," Governor Rick Scott said.
With the legislature's approval, Governor Scott says the money from the Florida Families First budget will help make water quality improvements to the Apalachicola Bay.
"Today there are oysters developing in the areas of poor water quality, which impacts the growth of the oyster," Scott adds.
Things became rather difficult about a year ago, when upstream water flow was reduced significantly. As a result, oyster production declined and so did the pocket books of reliant families.
"We have not had monies appropriated for the bay from the past line items of budgets from the governor's office. First time ever that I know of, so that is huge," Commissioner Pinki Jackel said.
The Northwest Florida Water Management District will prioritize critical projects that address storm water needs, which will enhance area infrastructure and improve the quality of water that enters the bay. The district will have the flexibility needed to retrofit storm water infrastructure to keep storm water from impacting the local fisheries. These initiatives will be crucial for the long-term restoration and sustainability of water resources in Apalachicola Bay, and will work to clean this ecosystem so it provides quality water for oysters.
Included in the $3 million is up to $500,000, to help fund an analysis of the river flows necessary to maintain estuarine resources.
"You know, he said some good things you, but I don't know how much help that's actually going to do," Shannon Hartsfield, Franklin County Seafood Workers Association President said. He's disconcerted with the process and thinks the ultimate solution is a resolution with the river's gate keepers and the Army Corps of Engineers.
"Nothing's getting happening. It's a lot of talk, talk, talk." Hartsfield said.
But despite that, local lawmakers say this news is welcoming and a step in the right direction.
"There are going to be some that argue that this isn't the most expeditious use of this money, but this is a step in the right direction people," Representative Halsey Beshears said.
Currently, the regional workforce board, Franklin County, the Department of Agriculture and Fish And Wildlife Commission are working together to move oysters from poor growing areas to other sites, where the oysters can grow to a good size for oystermen to harvest. Today, there are oysters developing in areas of poor water quality, which impacts the growth of the oyster – and impacts the pocket books of oystermen who are prohibited from selling oysters from these identified reefs. In a process known as "relaying," oysters that are developing in poor condition areas are moved to areas with better water quality. From these areas, healthy oysters can develop into something that oystermen can sell, which is great news for families in the area.
Department of Economic Opportunity is coordinating with Franklin County in depositing processed oyster shell on depleted oyster reefs and bay bottom areas to provide a base for oyster larvae to attach and grow. The benefits of this project provide short term and long term gains to families in the area. First, the partnership with Department Of Economic Opportunity and the county will employ individuals to deposit the oyster shells, providing job opportunities to area families. Second, the shells will provide a great habitat for oysters to attach to and grow in, which benefits the oyster industry here as a whole.
The Fish and Wildlife Commission has been working with the University of Florida to monitor the Big Bend area outside of Apalachicola, which may provide scientists with greater opportunities to better understand the potential of the oyster fisheries. Also, the University of Florida Oyster Recovery Team is studying the decline of oysters in Apalachicola Bay to create short-term and long-term strategies for restoring oyster populations – and their first strategy report is expected this Spring.
The Department of Economic Opportunity is working with the county to develop strategies for the regional economy to ensure the community remains whole.