Florida Oyster Harvest Suffers As Drought Intensifies Water Battle with Georgia and Alabama

Photo © Codi Kozacek / Circle of Blue

EASTPOINT, Fla. — The afternoon sun turns the sky white as the boat bobs on the bay’s blue waters. Shannon Hartsfield, a fourth-generation oysterman and president of the Franklin County Seafood Workers Association, balances on the gunwale and scissors a four-meter (14-foot) pair of tongs along the oyster bar below. He heaves them up, depositing the catch onto a wide culling board across the bow. Only a handful of harvestable oysters can be separated from the pile of mostly empty white shells.

“We are having a lack of product, and we are not able to provide for our families like we should because of the drought,” says Hartsfield, who grew up on the Apalachicola Bay. “We’re the last on the totem pole when it comes to fresh water, and we get whatever we get — and there’s been a lack of it [this year].”

The bay is the last stop for the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) River Basin, an expanse of estuary marshes, sea-grass beds, and oyster bars hemmed in by shifting barrier islands in the Gulf of Mexico. The ecosystem in the bay relies heavily on freshwater flows from the Apalachicola River. Ten percent of the aquatic area of the estuary is covered in oyster bars that provide 90 percent of Florida’s annual oyster harvest. But this has been a particularly difficult year.

The combination of dry weather and scarce water, prompted by one of the basin’s worst droughts on record, is both a striking symptom of the endemic problem that more than half of the continental United States faces this year and a test of human resolve to solve penetrating rivalries that are putting the economy and ecology of this region in jeopardy. Indeed, say authorities and scholars, the drought facing this southeastern corner of the country highlights the need for thinking much differently about managing water supplies and sharing rivers — something a 22-year-old court battle between Alabama, Florida, and Georgia has failed to deliver.

This story originally appeared on Circle of Blue. Read the full article here.