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Plan aims to help water flow where Florida oysters have declined

Federal plan aims to restore livelihoods, oyster production in state

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida oysters from the Apalachicola Bay on the gulf coast have seen a disastrous decline, leading to litigation among Florida, Georgia and Alabama over freshwater use.

A new federal plan aims to help water flow into the area, and restore livelihoods and oyster production in the state.

Rep. Gwen Graham announced her federal plan while performing a "workday" with oyster fisherman in the gulf. Her father, former governor and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, started the tradition during his campaign for governor in the 70s.

It wasn't a good oyster haul for Tony Saddler and his son Tuesday morning in Apalachicola Bay.

"Only got about a half a bag, out there about two hours," Saddler said.

But things are improving slowly. The bay used to provide nearly 90 percent of all the oysters in the state, but a recent drought nearly wiped out the industry. Restoration plans are starting to help businesses that almost went under.

Rep. Gwen Graham wants to kick start the effort. She announced her bay restoration plan while looking for oysters with fisherman Tuesday morning.

"This is a treasure to Florida, it's a treasure to our country, and what I hope will happen is that we will get more and more people to come down to north Florida and see how special this place on the world is and want to be invested in helping protect it," Rep. Gwen Graham said.

The deterioration has caused Florida to sue the state of Georgia, alleging the Peach State is hogging too much freshwater for the city of Atlanta and not letting it flow south.

So even though the problem is mainly in the panhandle, a lack of oyster production could mean seafood prices may go up.

Restaurant owner Lynn Martina has had to downsize from wholesale seafood to running a raw bar because of the lack of production.

"I never dreamed we'd go from selling them by the tractor trailer load to selling them by the dozen, but that's where we are, and it's just because of the decline," Martina said.

The Apalachicola Bay was declared a fishery disaster in summer 2013 because of the dying industry.