An open letter to the Honorable Adam Putnam, commissioner of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services

Special to The Star

Dear Commissioner Putnam,

The Wakulla Commercial Fishermen’s Association Inc. asks you, as commissioner of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, to enforce regulations on oyster farms your agency has placed in Wakulla County’s waters and stop adding more oyster farms until you shut down unused oyster leases and terminate contracts with oyster leases that violate regulations.

Please consider that Wakulla County commissioners on Nov. 22, voted unanimously to support oyster farms as long as they did not harm Wakulla’s commercial fishing industry, block channels, create a hazard to navigation and damage wild-oyster bars. Unfortunately those stipulations are being violated.

Both FDACS and the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers have aquaculture regulations which are being violated, and, as a result, have been damaging commercial fishermen’s ability to earn a decent living.

To correct the harm created by oyster farms, here are facts we ask you to address:

• The FDACS contract with oyster farmers requires “effective cultivation,” yet, of the 60 oyster-farm leases in Skipper and Oyster bays, many leases are unassigned, many more sit idle and 32 leases harvested no oysters in 2016. Only 10 leaseholders reported harvesting oysters in 2016, and eight in 2015. “Effective cultivation” is not occurring,

• Oyster farms are placed in the channel where mullet run and traditionally provide income fishermen count on for Christmas money. Oyster farms have driven mullet out of this traditional fishing channel, which is prohibited,

• Oyster farms hang over muddy, sandy bottoms where crabbers set their traps in traditional fishing areas, which is prohibited,

• Leases are placed over existing oyster beds, which is prohibited, and

• Leases create navigation hazards, which is prohibited.

 

Furthermore, the FDACS Division of Aquaculture reported that Tallahassee Community College’s Wakulla Environmental Institute harvested 370,000 oysters of total 462,603 harvested in Wakulla County in 2016. Your contract with WEI prohibits using its lease for “commercial purposes” or as an “adjunct to a commercial endeavor,” so we ask you to find out where the 370,000 oysters went.

Should you fail to enforce your regulations, you would be sacrificing Wakulla County’s commercial fishing industry on a gamble that an oyster-farming industry would be better. As a result, FDACS would bring economic pain to Wakulla County’s commercial fishing industry, economic pain to the county and deliver a crippling blow to the heritage of the county’s fishing industry. Please enforce your regulations.

Sincerely,

John Taylor

President of the WCFA and the following commercial fishermen in Wakulla County

Shannon Hartsfield

President of the Franklin County Seafood Workers Association