Florida communities vie to help seafood industry

By Bruce Ritchie

Twelve Florida communities have applied for grants under a new program that was created to help the state’s struggling seafood industry.

The 12 communities are requesting more than $28 million for projects, but only $7.5 million is available this year under the new “working waterfronts” program, according to the Florida Department of Community Affairs.

Two proposed projects are Franklin County, including $1.7 million requested to purchase land for a parking area and boat ramp along Patton Drive in Eastpoint. In Apalachicola, the city is requesting $1 million to buy a 6,000-square foot metal building will be used to construct and repair fishing boats and will be open to the public as part of the nearby Apalachicola Maritime Museum.

Both projects, if they receive funding, will help the Franklin County seafood industry in the future, said Linda Raffield of Apalachicola, the wife of an oysterman. She also is secretary of the Franklin County Seafood Workers Association.

Although the seafood industry has declined because of foreign products, fuel prices and lack of pay increases for seafood workers, she said the boat-building workshop will provide jobs. The boat ramp will ensure that oystermen have a place to unload their boats.

“When it comes to waterfront landings, that helps,” she said. “It may not seem to help this week, but there will be good times to come.”

Florida Department of Community Affairs Secretary Tom Pelham said working waterfronts have played an important role in shaping the state’s culture and economy.

“I applaud these communities for demonstrating a commitment to protect these special places and promote the legacy that working waterfronts have made upon Florida’s maritime history and culture,” Pelham said in a written statement.

In Pinellas County, the Southeastern Fisheries Association has applied for two grants totaling $2.6 million. One would help protect a Madeira Beach grouper processing house, now on leased property, from being developed into condominiums, said Bob Jones, the association’s executive director.

Even though coastal development may be in a slump along with the rest of the real estate industry, Jones said the development pressure will return. He said the program will help protect the jobs and the seafood industry.

“We really have to have shore-side facilities if we are going to have domestic fish — it’s just that simple,” Jones said. “You’ve got to unload somewhere.”

The working waterfronts program is named after Rep. Stan Mayfield, R-Vero Beach, who died Sept. 30 from cancer. As chairman of the House Environment and Natural Resources Council, he pushed earlier this year for reauthorization of the Florida Forever program that provides $300 million annually for land purchases, including the working waterfronts program.

The projects are scheduled to be ranked in January by the Florida Communities Trust board. Gov. Charlie Crist and the Cabinet are scheduled to consider approving the list in February.

Contact journalist Bruce Ritchie at bruceritchie@embarqmail.com or at 850-385-1774.
Photos and text copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and www.bruceritchie.com .

4 thoughts on “Florida communities vie to help seafood industry”

  1. Cynthia Barnett

    Nice to be able to read your work as usual — just in a different place. Have you figured out a way to share this with folks in Franklin County so that people there know about this independent journalist who cares about their news?

  2. It’s great to still be able to read your excellent work, Bruce. I’ll check this site daily.

  3. Thanks. I’ve shared it with a couple of folks who helped me on the story and I need to figure out how to share it with others.

    I may start posing discussion questions with each of my stories. One question I would have here is:
    Is this an environmental story?

    Enjoying seafood and watching seafood workers may be an environmental, outdoor experience. But is preserving the seafood industry an environmental goal? Does preserving a healthy seafood industry also mean preserving a healthy coast?

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