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Graham denies Southerland accusation of river flip-flop

Tue, Sep 30, 2014

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BY BRUCE RITCHIE

FLORIDAENVIRONMENTS.COM

8-13-14 Southerland mug

Southerland

U. S. Rep. Steve Southerland is accusing Democratic challenger Gwen Graham of flip-flopping on the issue of the Apalachicola River but Graham denies there has been any shift in her stance.

A year ago, Florida Gov. Rick Scott filed a lawsuit against Georgia asking the U. S. Supreme Court to divide water in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system between the states and Alabama. Florida claims Georgia’s water use is harming oysters in Apalachicola bay and families that depend on the seafood industry for jobs.

During a campaign stop along the river in August, Graham said she would work with the Alabama and Georgia congressional delegations and there should be less finger-pointing among the states. She also said she would work closer with the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, which manages four reservoirs along the Chattahoochee River and partially controls water flowing to Florida.

But a statement issued by Graham last week said Florida was being “cheated” for water by Georgia. She criticized the U. S. Solicitor General for telling the Supreme Court in a filing earlier this month that the case isn’t ready for action while the Corps of Engineers is working to update its water control plan in 2015.

“With prospects of canceling the oyster season altogether this year, the Obama Administration should withdraw this request and allow the Supreme Court hearing to move forward without delay,” Graham said.

“Though I hope the lawsuit is successful, the people of Franklin County are running out of time,” she said.

Southerland, R-Panama City, slammed Graham on Monday for allegedly flip-flopping on the issue.

“She’s argued for months that Florida’s lawsuit was not ‘in the best interest’ of Apalachicola Bay and only flipped her position in the election’s closing weeks,” Southerland said. “We can’t trust someone in Congress who will argue both sides of an issue as important as this.”

“Georgia is working nonstop to steal our water,” Southerland said, “and I’m fighting tooth and nail to stop them.”

8-1-14 Graham

Graham

Graham told Floridaenvironments.com on Tuesday that there has been no flip-flop.

“I have been consistent,” she said. “The lawsuit was not the best approach.”

“I don’t think lawsuits in general are a way to resolve issues. Now that the lawsuit has been filed, of course, I hope it is successful. I don’t think the people of Franklin County have the time to wait on yet another lawsuit.”

She said she would focus on working with the Corps of Engineers to gain downstream users of the Apalachicola River legal rights to their water.

Last year, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal called the Florida lawsuit a “frivilous waste of time and money” and said Florida had refused to respond to Georgia’s settlement proposal.

Both Florida and Georgia have refused to release proposal details or documents because of a 2010 court order requested by the states providing confidentiality for mediation. A Scott spokesman said recently that there are no talks among the states.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is considering closing Apalachicola Bay to oyster harvesting after severely restricting the amount that can be harvested. Last week, the Apalachicola Bay Oyster Dealers Association and the Seafood Management Assistance Resource and Recovery Team, consisting of seafood dealers and workers, agreed to ask for a closure of the bay until the summer if assistance can be provided to seafood workers.

(Story and photos copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Floridaenvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained from bruceBritchie@gmail.com).

With Apalachicola Bay oysters continuing to suffer, state further tightens harvesting

Thu, Aug 28, 2014

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By BRUCE RITCHIE
FLORIDAENVIRONMENTS.COM

APALACHICOLA — The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is sharply reducing the number of oysters that can be taken from Apalachicola Bay because the oyster population there remains low.

And some seafood workers are warning that oysters soon could be wiped out in a key harvesting area.

Shannon Hartsfield this week pulled up mostly empty oyster shells from Apalachicola Bay. Photo by Bruce Ritchie.

Shannon Hartsfield this week pulled up mostly empty oyster shells from Apalachicola Bay. Photo by Bruce Ritchie.

State officials in 2012 requested a federal fisheries disaster declaration because of a continued drought that reduced freshwater flowing into Apalachicola Bay from Alabama and Georgia.

In 2013, Florida blamed Georgia for misusing water from the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system and asked the U. S. Supreme Court to divide water fairly among the states.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission announced Thursday it is reducing the oysters that can be harvested commercially this winter from 20 bags daily to five beginning Sept. 1. Each bag holds 10 gallons of oysters in their shells.

Jim Estes, deputy director of the Division of Fisheries Management, on Monday told a meeting of seafood workers and dealers in Apalachicola that the reduction is needed because the oyster population “is in real bad shape.”

“These are just interim measures,” he said. “These are not going to bring these things back.”

He said the bay’s oysters need more fresh water, which they received this spring and summer, along with oyster shells placed on the bottom of the bay for oyster larvae to attach and grow on.

The East Hole harvesting area will remain closed, Estes said, and some areas where shells recently were placed on the bottom also will be closed once they are identified.

Both commercial and recreational oyster harvesting will be closed Fridays through Sundays. The daily recreational harvest is being reduced from two bags to half a bag.

Several Franklin County oystermen responded with concerns that the bay’s remaining oysters will be decimated once the winter harvesting season begins Sept. 1.

Shannon Hartsfield, president of the Franklin County Seafood Workers Association, said there are no oysters elsewhere in the bay and very few in the important Cat Point commercial harvesting area. He said it will be “demolished” quickly once winter harvesting begins on Sept. 1.

“I agree with doing something, but I think we’re going to destroy Cat Point,” he said. “It’s going to be worse starting off this year than past years. By the time we get through starting Sept. 1, there’s going to be nothing (remaining) in one month.”

Estes’ remarks also prompted a wide-ranging discussion about what is killing oysters or preventing new ones from growing in Apalachicola Bay. Among the concerns identified were water pollution from various sources and the continuing effects of the 2011-12 drought.

Oysterman Danny Smith said he has seen similar shortages of oysters throughout the Gulf of Mexico. Associated Press reported earlier this month on the lack of oysters in Louisiana since the 2010 Gulf oil spill.

Estes and Kal Knickerbocker, director of aquaculture at the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, said they didn’t know why there are so few new oysters in Apalachicola Bay or what the solution is.

“There are many, many questions and there are very few answers at this time,” Knickerbocker said.

More information about the FWC announcement can be found here.

(Story and photo copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Floridaenvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained from bruceBritchie@gmail.com)

Fla. ag commissioner says he would support possible move to close Apalachicola Bay oyster harvest

Fri, Sep 19, 2014

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By BRUCE RITCHIE

FLORIDAENVIRONMENTS.COM

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam on Friday offered support for state wildlife officials as they whether decide to close Apalachicola Bay to oyster harvesting.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

Alabama, Florida and Georgia have been fighting in federal court over water in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system since 1990. Last Oct. 1, Florida asked the U. S. Supreme Court to step in because the state said Georgia’s water use was reducing flow needed for oysters and hurting the bay’s seafood industry.

Last week, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Executive Director Nick Wiley said the bay may have to be closed because the lack of oysters “is worse — worse than ever.” On Sept. 1, the commission sharply reduced the daily oyster harvest as seafood workers warned that overfishing still could occur.

Also Friday, Franklin County seafood workers met in Apalachicola and angrily voiced opposition to closing the bay, according to WCTV in Tallahassee. Shannon Hartsfield, president of the Franklin County Seafood Workers Association, said he was resigning — but he later said the action was premature.

Asked whether he would support the commission if it orders a closure, Putnam said the agency has some of the best biologists in the state and would not consider such a move lightly.

“If that is the conclusion they come to, then all of us across state government need to be prepared to move in and assist those families who will be devastated if that is the conclusion they come to,” Putnam said.

He made the comments to reporters while at a Lowe’s store promoting a sales tax holiday weekend on energy and water-saving devices.

Earlier this month, the fish and wildlife commission reduced the amount of oysters that can be harvested commercially this winter from 20 bags daily to five. Each bag holds 10 gallons of oysters in their shells.

The East Hole harvesting area will remain closed and some areas where shells recently were placed on the bottom also will be closed once they are identified, state wildlife officials said.

At a meeting of seafood workers and dealers in Apalachicola on Aug. 28, Hartsfield warned that oyster harvesting will become concentrated at Cat Point, one of the last remaining harvesting areas.

“I agree with doing something, but I think we’re going to destroy Cat Point,” Hartsfield said.

An oysterman harvests oysters from Apalachicola Bay in December 2013.

An oysterman harvests oysters from Apalachicola Bay in December 2013.

Last week, Wiley told a commission meeting in Central Florida that his agency was closely monitoring the harvest.

“But it’s very likely we’re going to have to entertain a complete closure of the Apalachciola oyster harvest,” he said. “We want to take that very carefully and only do that if everybody feels like that’s what we have to do.”

Earlier this week, Florida and federal scientists said there had been normal flows in the river system during the past month and that salinity levels in Apalachicola Bay were around normal. Conditions overall are improved compared to 2012, when Florida officials said continued drought and upstream water use had caused the oyster population to collapse.

On Friday, Putnam told reporters that the bay needs sustained freshwater flows, not just surges of fresh water from big rain storms. Until there are sustained flows, he said the bay may need to be closed so the oyster population can recover.

“Our folks, their (wildlife commission) biologists, a whole host of some of the brightest minds in the country from aquaculture are working on this,” Putnam said. “But it’s a race against the clock to save the livelihoods of those folks in Franklin County.”

The University of Florida Oyster Recovery Team on Oct. 1 will hold a listening session in  Apalachicola on the situation. A follow-up meeting will be scheduled for presentations on the status of oysters, a bay management plan being developed by the state and other issues including funding to support oyster recovery.

(Story and photos copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Floridaenvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained from bruceBritchie@gmail.com)

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