$6.3 Million in Funding Heading to Apalachicola Bay Oyster Indus - WMBB News 13 - The Panhandle's News Leader

$6.3 Million in Funding Heading to Apalachicola Bay Oyster Industry

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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.

Information provided by Sen. Bill Nelson's Office

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Statement from U.S. Senator Marco Rubio.

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) today welcomed the announcement made by the U.S. Department of Commerce to allocate $6,316,533 in disaster assistance funding for the oyster fishery in Florida.

On August 12, 2013, a federal fisheries disaster was declared for the oyster fishery along the northwest coast of Florida due to excessive drought conditions in Apalachicola Bay and elsewhere in the Florida Panhandle that have caused the regional economy to suffer significantly. Historically, the Apalachicola Bay region has produced 90 percent of Florida's oysters and 10 percent of the oysters supplied to the entire country.

"Today's announcement will bring much-needed relief to the small business owners and families in the Apalachicola community whose way of life depends on the health of the oyster fishery," said Senator Rubio. "Every bit of this disaster assistance will be a good first step in helping the local communities, industries and businesses severely impacted and that have suffered immense economic damage because of a preventable, man-made disaster. These small businesses and hard-working Floridians still deserve a permanent solution, and I remain committed to fixing this problem until Florida's oyster fishery is once again vibrant."

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Statement from Rep. Steve Southerland

U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland, II applauded today's announcement by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that $6.3 million in disaster assistance will be directed to Northwest Florida's oyster fishery.  In Congress, Southerland spearheaded efforts to ensure that Apalachicola Bay's oystermen receive critical relief in the wake of a 60% decline in the oyster fishery since 2012. 

"I am pleased that these hardworking North Florida families will receive the relief they so desperately need," said Southerland.  "While this disaster assistance is a critical step forward, the fight for our oyster fishery is far from over.  I remain committed to doing all I can to help Apalachicola Bay's oyster fishery not just survive, but thrive for generations to come."

More than 2,500 North Florida jobs are impacted by the fishery decline.  Southerland coauthored a letter to congressional leaders last fall urging that North Florida's oyster fishery receive disaster relief in the final FY2014 funding bill.

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