Feds issue disaster declaration in Apalachicola

Gov. Rick Scott requested the declaration in September 2012 because the fishery was near collapse. A May 2013 state report sent last week to federal officials blames lack of fresh water flowing from federal reservoirs in Georgia and Alabama.

Pritzker declared the commercial fishery failure for the oyster fishery along the west coast of Florida. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the fishery resource disaster resulted from excessive drought conditions in Apalachicola Bay and elsewhere in the Florida panhandle during the 2012-13 winter fishing season.

“We understand the economic significance this historic oyster fishery has for fishermen and related businesses in the panhandle of Florida,” Pritzker said in a news release. “Because the drought caused such a decline in oyster landings and a rather significant drop in revenue, the fishery qualified as a resource disaster under the nation’s fishing law.”

The U. S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation will conduct a field hearing Tuesday in Apalachicola at the courthouse annex starting at 11 a.m. U. S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Miami, and Scott also are scheduled to tour the area.

The May report issued by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says the population of legal size oysters has dropped 67 percent. Recovery of oyster populations, the report said, will take five years under “ideal” conditions with adequate fresh water flow.

In a statement issued Monday night, Scott said NOAA did the right thing in making the declaration.

“Now we need the support of Congress to provide the dollars necessary to support this region’s recovery,” Scott said. “Congress should move with a sense of urgency to provide much-needed support for families in the region, so they can get back on their feet and continue providing our nation with the world’s best oysters.”

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