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Feds declare fisheries disaster for struggling Apalachicola Bay

1rmHUZ.Em.56The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Monday that the drought conditions in Apalachicola Bay for the last year have resulted in a fishery disaster for Florida’s oystermen, allowing them to obtain relief funds.

The announcement comes a day before U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio are scheduled to attend a Senate Commerce Committee field hearing in Apalachicola on Tuesday to gather testimony on the economic impact of the water conditions on the oyster industry. 

“We understand the economic significance this historic oyster fishery has for fishermen and related businesses in the panhandle of Florida,” said U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker in a statement. “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.”

In the last year, the oyster industry has lost 44 percent of its revenues as the oyster population in the Gulf of Mexico has declined an estimated 60 percent.

“It takes three years for oysters to reach marketable size, so we are concerned about this depleted oyster resource that has traditionally supported a viable fishery,” said Sam Rauch, acting assistant NOAA administrator for NOAA Fisheries in a statement. “We will continue to work with Congress, the state and oyster fishermen through this challenging time.”

Nelson asked the federal government to declare the fisheries disaster a year ago and it was followed by a joint letter last year from Nelson, Rubio and North Florida congressmen in September 2012. Gov. Rick Scott made a similar request that month.  Download 09-12-12 Letter to Sec Blank re Oyster Disaster Declaration (1) 

Miami Herald photo by Patrick Farrell