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Oyster leases OK’d by Cabinet

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TALLAHASSEE – The Florida Cabinet today voted unanimously on Oct. 11 to approve additional aquaculture leases in several parts of the state, including two in Levy County.

The wild oyster industry in the Apalachicola Bay has declined substantially in recent years. Spring Creek Oyster Company recently began cultivating oysters in cages in the full water column. This places the oysters in the most nutrient-rich part of the water, which reduces predators, shortens the grow-out time and improves survival rates.

“While we support efforts to protect Florida’s unique wild oyster harvest in Apalachicola, we’re excited about the opportunity to grow Florida’s oyster industry with the approval of additional water column leases,” said state Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. “The use of water columns will benefit the local economy, which has been devastated by the decline in the wild oyster population, and increase the total value of Florida’s oyster industry.”

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has partnered with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to ensure the leases have minimal impact on public navigation, recreational opportunities and environmental health.

The first approved aquaculture lease is for a two-acre parcel within the Apalachicola Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve in Franklin County. The applicant, Andrew Arnold, will be culturing native clams and oysters in the water column.

The second approved lease is for a two-acre bottom lease for sovereign submerged land located within the Terra Ceia Aquatic Preserve in Manatee County. The applicant, Curtis Hemmel with Bay Shellfish Co., requested the two acres adjacent to two previously authorized aquaculture leases in order to expand the company’s operation, resulting in additional production and economic development.

A third lease was approved for the use of the full water column over five acres of sovereign submerged land in Oyster Bay in Wakulla County to expand the business of the Spring Creek Oyster Company. The applicants – Leo, Ben and Clay Lovel – plan to use the additional area to grow out oysters and clams to market size. In June, Spring Creek was granted the state’s first aquaculture lease to use the full water column by the Florida Cabinet.

A fourth request approved was to modify 24 1.5-acre aquaculture bottom leases in Franklin County’s Alligator Harbor. The 13 applicants plan to use the full water column to take advantage of new options available to aquaculture shellfish farmers. 

The final approval was to modify two two-acre aquaculture bottom leases in the Big Bend Seagrasses Aquatic Preserve in Levy County to use the full water column.

Laura Adams and Jerald W. Beckham have existing two-acre, 10-year sovereignty submerged land aquaculture leases that authorize them to grow clams on the bottom. 

They asked to be allowed to do is use the “full water column,” which entails growing their product — ostensibly oysters, in sacks or bags hanging above the bottom to keep the young oysters safe from predators and to grow a premium product. 

The two currently are clam farmers.