Drought, insufficient rainfall and salinity in the Apalachicola Bay helped cause a dramatic fall in oyster populations, according to a report by the University of Florida.
UF’s Oyster Recovery Team said there is no evidence that pollutants from the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico contributed to the decline. Still, seafood fishermen and sellers are suffering from the dip in oysters.
Andrew Kane, leader of the contaminants and pathogens division of the recovery team, said he sees the report as something positive, because recovery can now begin.
A combination of reduced water flow and a nationwide drought has contributed to the lack of water flow, which elevated the salinity of the bay, making an environment that is not optimal for oysters but better for predators, said Kane, an associate professor of environmental and global health at UF.
The team looked at a variety of factors for the report, including management factors , diseases and parasites that all affect the community, he said.
What’s tricky about the report is there is not a lot of past history to compare it to, he said, so the team is focusing on the future
“The idea now is to take this data and move forward and ask the question: ‘Where do we go from here?'” Kane said.
The data found is critical to future plans, he said.
“We can predict that this drought is likely to continue in the coming year,” he said. “And that’s why we need to provide insights relative to the management of the fishery.”
This problem has caused a lot of groups – from state universities to seafood workers to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission – to come together for a joint cause, Kane said. The researchers are doing whatever they can to partner with other agencies.
The next step is to work on a restoration proposal, he said. The crabbers and harvesters and hurting the most are losing fishing time to become educated about this environmental problem.
The report also recommends more research in the future, but funding could be an issue. This past study was funded by UF/IFAS.
“The good thing is all of this concern with this decline is that it’s brought a lot of partners to the table,” he said.
According to a press release, recovery team members discussed the report with about 60 residents and seafood workers Wednesday at the Apalachicola Community Center.
Kelsey Meany wrote this story for online.