Death By A Thousand Paper Cuts

I was recently asked "Can you still buy wild oysters harvested from the Apalachicola FL area"?

(Background: Apalachicola Bay produced a wild oyster harvest of well over one hundred million oysters per year for generations. Starting with the 2010 BP Oil Spill in the Gulf Of Mexico (GOM) a series of events took place that decimated oyster populations over the course of the next decade. Florida had been pointing a finger at Georgia and Alabama, who share the headwaters of the river, for nearly 30 years that it was overuse of the river by urban and agriculture interests that was creating long term problems for the oyster fishery in the Bay).

My answer:

Apalachicola Bay will be closed for possibly as long as the next four and a half years as the Florida Wildlife Commission attempts to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. Changes in Bay water ecology, changes in the Apalachicola River, and changes in the amounts of seawater now intruding into the Bay (provided by data from sea level gauges) have all contributed greatly to the demise of the large oyster bars that were formerly located throughout the Bay.
Other contributors to the current problems were provoked when those regulating the oyster harvest in the Bay (the aforementioned Florida Wildlife Commission) green-lighted the stripping of all oysters out of the Bay when it appeared that oil from the BP oil spill would intrude, which never happened. In the decade since that order was released, the bars never recovered.


Meanwhile, the State of Florida took the lowest bid to put smallish pieces of Midwest lime rock and other hard substrate on top of the diminished oysters bars throughout the Bay to give naturally propagated oyster spat the opportunity to have something to which to attach. The substrate proved to do little other than smother what was left on the bars. Yet one more insult to Mother Nature? I am afraid so.

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Since the middle of the last century, Florida and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have:

1. Channelized the Apalachicola River, ruining miles and miles of riparian floodplain upriver from the Bay in order to keep the river capable of supporting the handful of barges that navigate the river annually. The big suction dredges working the river channel threw miles of pristine river bottom sand up into huge piles along the river bank.


2. Dug the MASSIVE Gulf County Canal from St. Joseph Bay to the Intercoastal Canal just west of White City, that siphons gazillions of gallons of Apalachicola River water daily by diverting it to St. Joe Bay, rather than letting it naturally flow to the Apalachicola Bay. The canal exists because of the request of one powerful man, Ed Ball, who was at that time the owner / operator of the Port St. Joe papermill.  (Here's a good primer: https://baysaversfl.org/history/)


3. Installed the Bob Sikes Cut through St. George Island to create two barrier islands out of just one, in effort to allow off-shore sport fishing and shrimping interests to have better and easier access to the GOM. If you don't think the cut large enough to make a difference in the Bay ecology, I've personally seen full-sized trees moving with the out-going tide through the cut. I've personally seen dead wild hogs floating out through the cut on those same out-going tides - a testament to just how the River currents move from the mouth of the River up in the Bay, directly to the GOM.


Old timers in the area claim that the OIL DISPERSANTS used in the aftermath of the BP spill (keep in mind that the oil NEVER entered Apalachicola Bay) killed everything in the muddy sediments on the bottom of the Bay - everything. They also claim that the bay bottom is STILL devoid of life nearly 10 years later.


And last but not least, is the fact that for generations, local oyster harvesters overlooked the importance of pushing undersized oysters back off of their cull boards and instead, they put them in the same oyster sacks where they also placed their legal oysters, hauling them to the ever-so-ready-to-receive local processors and wholesalers who then took those undersized oysters to market. The long term affects of the removal of the undersized oysters diminished the fecundity of the oyster fishery by depriving the bars of the following season's breeding oysters.

If you pretend ...
Can you still get oysters from Apalachicola Bay? Well, the answer in a weird sort of way is "kind of"..... You can still get oysters from other states like Texas, Virginia, Alabama and Louisiana delivered in boxes that say "Eastpoint" or "Apalachicola" on them. And, restaurants in the Southeastern U.S. can still get those oysters delivered in trucks that have "Eastpoint" or "Apalachicola" painted in big letters all over their sides. And, the waitress at the restaurant where the oysters are sitting on a plate awaiting the patron will still answer "Apalachicola" when asked where the oysters came from by an unsuspecting consuming public. It's all part of the seafood duplicity that pervades the American Seafood Industry. (Editorial note: lest I be sued by an offended party, let me say right here and right now that there is nothing illegal about putting Texas oysters in a truck that says Eastpoint or Apalachicola on the side of it and delivering that seafood to a restaurant. The only action that would be illegal in this transaction would be falsify a harvest tag within the box.)


In more than just a few ways, the American Seafood Industry takes advantage of the consuming public's lack of knowledge regarding things like the difference between Asian catfish and real Gulf of Mexico grouper. Or, the difference between oysters harvested in Apalachicola Bay versus New Jersey. It's a part of the great mosaic of American hucksterism.

In contrast ...
Oyster Boss has seven oyster farms in Franklin County, FL all of which are inside Alligator Harbor at the far end of Apalachicola Bay. Our sustainable oyster farms are creating millions of salty oysters each year.

Besides farming local oysters, we also sustainably harvest wild oysters with our own crews in Yankeetown, FL, using harvest practices wherein absolutely NO oysters that are undersized (less than three inches) are allowed to "come to the hill" by our crews. 


2 comments

  • Josh Fitzhugh

    Hi Jeff. Met you at the Ghost Trap Rodeo in Apalach last week. This is as sound an analysis of the “oyster problem” in the Bay as any I have read. You and your son and his team are doing a great job. Keep it up!

  • Steve BeSmith

    Ha, i think i was the one that asked that question (FB). Thanks for such a thorough answer. More people need to know this history.


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