DATE: September 6, 2012
TO: All Interested Media
FROM: Brian Burgess, Communications Director
Executive Office of the Governor
RE: Request for Declaration Regarding Florida’s Oyster Harvesting Areas
Governor Rick Scott sent a letter today to the U.S. Department of Commerce, requesting a declaration of a fishery resource disaster for Florida’s oyster harvesting areas in the Gulf of Mexico, particularly those in Apalachicola Bay. After conferring with county leadership, Franklin County estimates the employment impact of the disaster to affect 2,500 jobs, including commercial oyster fishermen, processors and related coastal economies.
Please see Governor Scott’s letter, below and attached, as well as Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam’s letter to Governor Scott and the August 2012 Oyster Resource Assessment Report for Apalachicola Bay.
If you have any questions or need additional information, please contact Governor Scott’s press office at email@example.com or (850) 717-9282.
* * *
September 6, 2012
Ms. Rebecca Blank
U.S. Department of Commerce
1401 Constitution Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20230
Dear Secretary Blank:
On behalf of Florida’s oyster industry, I respectfully request that you declare a commercial fishery failure due to a fishery resource disaster for Florida’s oyster harvesting areas in the Gulf of Mexico, particularly those in Apalachicola Bay, pursuant to Section 312(a) of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Management and Conservation Act.
The State of Florida has experienced an unprecedented decline in the abundance of oysters within our coastal estuaries, a direct consequence of which has been a significant loss of income to commercial oyster fishermen, oyster processors and rural coastal communities. Recent oyster resource assessments indicate that the outlook for the 2012/2013 harvesting season is “poor” and unlikely to sustain commercial harvesting levels. I enclose a letter and report from Florida’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) assessing the current impacts. The FDACS report estimates the dockside value of oyster landed in Franklin County at $6.64 million in 2011, which translates to a larger and significant overall economic impact to the affected communities. After conferring with county leadership, Franklin County estimates the employment impact to affect 2,500 jobs, including commercial oyster fishermen, processors and related coastal economies.
According to the report, observations and sampling of oyster populations on the primary oyster producing reefs in Apalachicola Bay during July 2012 indicated that oyster populations were in poor condition. It is believed that a combination of factors has led to the recent decline in oyster populations.
The Florida Panhandle and Apalachicola Bay, as the drainage basin of the Apalachicola, Flint, and Chattahoochee Rivers, have experienced drought conditions for several years resulting in reduced freshwater input into Apalachicola Bay. This absence of freshwater contributes to higher salinity levels adversely affecting oyster populations and contributing to mass natural mortality events and a dramatic increase in oyster predation.
Harvesting pressures and practices were altered to increase fishing effort, as measured in reported trips, due to the closure of oyster harvesting in contiguous states during 2010. This led to overharvesting of illegal and sub-legal oysters further damaging an already stressed population. Other undetermined causes may also have been involved.
Disaster relief funds authorized by the Magnuson-Stevens Act are needed to: 1) further assess the primary and secondary causes of the oyster decline; 2) determine the feasibility of actins to remediate or restore the affected resources; 3) begin actions to prevent and restore affected resources; and 4) provide economic assistance to fishing communities and small businesses, including oyster fishermen affected by the disaster.
The State of Florida is prepared to provide the information necessary for you to properly assess this situation. On behalf of Florida’s oyster community, I thank you for your prompt consideration of this urgent request.
# # #Tweet