Healthy Gulf/Healthy Communities (HG/HC) project has become aware of growing public concerns related to the decrease in oyster harvests and the impacts they have on the community. Recent news outlets report the decline in harvest and present initial reactions from county officials. “Governor Rick Scott meeting with Franklin County Seafood Workers Association”, and “Governor Rick Scott Discusses Bay Harvest Problems with Franklin Seafood Workers & Commissioner Pinki Jackel” were the first steps in addressing the crisis. The initial meetings led to the “Franklin County Board of County Commissioners emergency Bay Meeting – Governor Rick Scott’s Letter to US Department of Commerce 9-6-12“. On September 18, 2012 local channel WMBB reported “Bay County Commission Responds To Possible Oyster Crisis” in which they shared that Governor Scott requested federal aid for Franklin County’s oyster industry. These events led to the formation of the UF Oyster Recovery Team.
Healthy Gulf/Healthy Communities is a program designed to help communities and individuals understand and deal with the changes going on in their region in response to environmental disasters. While our work was targeted initially toward the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, we have been active with other disasters such as hurricanes. The recent collapse of the oyster industry represents yet another disaster that fits into this same pattern, and where we feel that a similar approach may be of value.
The UF Oyster Recovery Team is a group of experts from the Healthy Gulf/Healthy Communities project, the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and the Florida Sea grant. These experts have joined forces with the local seafood producers and community leaders to figure out what may have happened in Apalachicola Bay and to learn why oyster populations have declined, find ways to bring them back, and identify solutions for social and economic impacts. The Florida Oyster Recovery Team builds on the work of Health Gulf/Health Communities, and, as such, builds on the community-based participatory research base established by HG/HC. This has been a successful formula for optimizing the research approach, and, in every way possible, we will continue to use it.
Our short term goal is to monitor communities, and individuals within those communities, and to help them to organize and come together to deal with the disaster. We will study and enhance community resiliency in areas impacted by the oil spill. Although it is not immediately clear that the oyster fishery collapse is an outcome of the oil spill, the vulnerability of the community based on its heavy reliance on coastal resources such as the collapsing fishery are concerns that we can help the community understand and reduce through enhancing other strengths.
Our long-term goal is to help communities understand the science behind these environmental events (particularly if we see the oyster collapse as a form of technological disaster), and to use this knowledge to help in guiding the response of the community. In addition, our goal is to help communities develop their own long-term strategies for dealing with environmental disasters– the oyster failure fits as yet another example into that overall goal. We are hopeful that the ideas and approaches introduced by HG/HC will be sustainable long-term.
Timeline of Events
Monday, July 29, 2013 – A Conversation About Oyster Aquaculture
On July 29th, from 2 to 5 PM in the Community Center in Apalachicola, members of the UF Oyster Recovery Team with expertise in oyster aquaculture methods and economics will answer questions about the pros and cons and any and all aspects of the feasibility of culturing oysters in Apalachicola Bay. This meeting is being hosted by SMARRT and any interested person is welcome to attend.
Wednesday, Apr 24, 2013 — Release of Research Findings Community Center, 1-4:30 pm April 24, 2013 AGENDA
The University of Florida Oyster Recovery Team will report the findings and recommendations from its study of the collapse of the 2012 Apalachicola Bay commercial oyster harvest in a public meeting on Wednesday, April 24, in Apalachicola.
This will be an informal round-table meeting to exchange information on progress made to date and activities underway by researchers evaluating existing and collecting new data, update from the GHGH group, update by the SMART Team, discussion about next steps … and opportunity for Q/A from any interested person who wants to attend.
Wednesday, Oct. 10 — Data Reconnaissance Scientific Meeting Apalachicola Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, 8:30 am — 3 pm
The Oyster Recovery Team has been divided into a number of working groups to address the multiple aspects of the problem. During 30-minute topical sessions at this meeting, the working group chair will briefly explain the purpose of their group; identify other team members on the group; and identify what data to date has been discovered related to the focus of their analysis. The chairs will then lead the discussion about data gaps that need to be filled, if any.
By the end of the day, each working group should have sufficient information to move forward with analyzing the available data and published materials.
Tuesday, Oct. 9 – Informal Listening Session Fort Coombs Armory, 5:30-7 pm
Residents and visitors to Apalachicola are invited to come out and share their concerns and needs. Full details are available at this link. The listening session is organized as part of the Healthy Gulf/Healthy Communities project.