Episode 2: Consider the Oyster—and the Oysterman

Oysters are the foundation of culture and economy in Apalachicola, a small, Franklin County fishing town in Florida’s panhandle. In many ways, the oyster is Apalachicola’s culinary mascot. But the bay, so famous for its eponymous oyster, is in serious trouble.

The confluence of salt water from the Gulf of Mexico and fresh water from the Apalachicola River provides an ideal habitat for oysters. Georgia’s Chatahootchee and Flint rivers are the headwaters to the Apalachicola, and currently, all three waterways are at the center of a water war lawsuit between Georgia, Alabama and Florida.

 Seafood workers' boats along Apalachicola Bay. Photo by Daniel Ward

Seafood workers' boats along Apalachicola Bay. Photo by Daniel Ward

It’s a tragedy of the commons, and so far, Georgia has come out on top. The Army Corps of Engineers controls these waters, and allows the Atlanta metropolitan area, population 6 million, to withdraw 360 million gallons a day. That’s a hard battle for Apalachicola Bay proponents and Franklin County, population 12,000. The damming, upriver regulations and withdrawals have nearly run the river dry in north Florida.

2.6 million pounds of oysters came from the Apalachicola Bay in 2009, but that number plummeted to 470,000 pounds in 2013. Yields this year aren't looking any better, and Franklin County residents are grappling with what to do.

 Shannon Hartsfield, President of the Franklin County Seafood Workers' Association and Chair of SMARRT. Photo by Daniel Ward.

Shannon Hartsfield, President of the Franklin County Seafood Workers' Association and Chair of SMARRT. Photo by Daniel Ward.

 Dr. Felicia Coleman, Director of the Florida State University Coastal and Marine Laboratory. Photo by Daniel Ward.

Dr. Felicia Coleman, Director of the Florida State University Coastal and Marine Laboratory. Photo by Daniel Ward.

I love it. It’s what I’ve always done, it’s what my parent’s have always done. I have the Gulf of Mexico right at my front door. I have the Apalachicola River at my back door, and the forest in my yard. So why would I want to leave?
— Ricky Banks, Apalachicola oysterman and Vice President of the Franklin County Seafood Workers' Association.

Check out the Panama City News Herald, The Southern Environmental Law Center, and The Tallahassee Democrat for additional coverage on the Apalachicola Bay debacle and the tri-state water wars.

Subscribe to Watershed via iTunes. Listen to us via SoundCloud. Connect with us on Facebook and Twitter.