UF Releases Oyster Situation Report - WMBB News 13 - The Panhandle's News Leader

UF Releases Oyster Situation Report

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Apalachicola, Fla. -

Researchers from the University of Florida unveil the findings of their oyster situation report. The study pinpoints the possible factors that are causing the lack of oysters in the Apalachicola Bay.

Several months of testing and analyzing comes to a head as researchers with the University of Florida's IFAS Center release their Oyster Situation Report. The Oyster Recovery Team was created to describe the conditions in the bay prior to and after the historic collapse of the oyster fishery.

"We did what we could with a relatively small amount of money." Dr. Karl Havens, the Director of the Florida Sea Grant says the collapse occurred in 2012 and says that contrary to popular belief researchers did not find substantial traces of oil.

"Things respond fast to toxic chemicals like oil. It doesn't take two years to see something suddenly happen," Havens said.

But oyster production did drop dramatically and scientist point to several key factors that caused the collapse. For starters, the lower part of the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin was frequently classified as an area with exceptional drought. According to NOAA, the Atlanta area, which is where Lake Lanier is located, was labeled as the driest placed in the U.S. from 2011 to 2012.

As a result of low discharge levels, the bay experienced high levels of salinity; if coupled with the high demand for oysters and over harvesting from the spill, you have a bigger problem.

But that's not all; scientist discovered a parasite attacking oysters. The study says a large percentage of oysters in the bay have some degree of shell parasitism by clams, worms, sponges and other organisms.

"You know folks always want to go to the big issue which of course is water flow down the river but once you get that combined with the drought the salinity and the predation, there are other community based factors as well." Joe Taylor said. He is satisfied with the research wants to see this project enter "Phase II."

"So many times we talk about restoring the bay and all the environmental pieces but we got to talk about the people too in the process."

The Oyster Recovery Team and SMARRT, local fisherman involved in the study, made several recommendations. They suggest more monitoring, a need for a comprehensive look at harvesting practices, and the implementation of a large shelling project.