CK oyster situation heading to Putnam

-A A +A
By Lou Elliott Jones

When state Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam stops in Trenton for a campaign event on Wednesday, from 1 to 4 p.m., it won’t be just Gilchrist County agriculture on his agenda.
Levy County Commissioner Chad Johnson, Putnam’s college roommate and fraternity brother, will be talking to his old pal about the need to get money for re-seeding the oyster population in the Suwannee River Basin, which includes Cedar Key and parts of Levy and Dixie counties.
Last month, the Cedar Key Oystermen’s Association made a presentation to the Levy commissioners about the need for re-seeding after years of drought made water too salty and oysters vulnerable to parasites, before collapsing last year. The association was asking for help like that given to their neighbors to the north in Apalachicola Bay.
The Apalachicola oyster industry suffered the same issues. But unlike Cedar Key and the Suwannee River Basin, the Panhandle city got help. In February, the U.S. Department of Commerce approved $6.3 million in disaster relief funds and $1.8 million in state funds to help revive  Aplachicola’s oyster industry with job training and oyster restoration.
Johnson is meeting for lunch on Wednesday with Dixie County Commissioner Wade “Gene” Higginbotham, Dixie County Manager Mike Cassidy, Robert P. “Bob” Jones, executive director of the Southeast Fisheries Association, an industry group, and an officer of the Florida Small Counties Coalition.
After the lunch, Johnson will be heading to the Putnam event.
Johnson said state Rep. Charlie Stone of Ocala (R-District 22), who represents Levy County, has identified a possible source of money, about $56,000 in the state budget that could be used for the oyster re-seeding.  
Johnson said a follow-up meeting has also been arranged with Mike Joyner at the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services –not to be confused with a Levy County commissioner of the same name – to discuss the funding.
“Cedar Key is not necessarily my district,” Johnson said. “But I do have some relationships and friends to make some good out of a bad situation.”
The island is in District 4 which is held by Commission Chair Ryan Bell who has also been working to secure funding for the oystermen. It was Bell who contacted Stone about the money in a state trust fund and he has brought the oyster situation to the attention of the state’s congressional delegation, including Congressman Ted Yoho (R-District 3), and Sens. Marco Rubio (R) and Bill Nelson (D).