I spent this past weekend on Florida’s Apalachicola River for a hunting story you’ll find in Field & Stream next fall. When I asked my host there, a fish guide nicknamed Wood Duck, about picking up a bag of oysters before we headed upriver to camp, his reply was straightforward: “Man, oysters are getting scarce around here. And expensive.”
Now expensive oysters is a pretty relative concept when you consider Wood Duck lives in Apalachicola and I live in Nebraska–but how could they be rare in an area that produces some of the best and largest oysters in the world? Well, Wood Duck and the locals I talked to all had their opinions, some controversial, but what was agreed upon is that the lack of freshwater flushing out of the river and into the bay has played a big part in threatening to halt to one of the last wild oyster fisheries in the world.
Like the old saying goes, “Whiskey is for drinking and water for fighting,” and so goes the Apalachicola River system, which has caused a huge rift for water rights between the states of Georgia and Florida, according to an article at Tallahasee.com last week:
“The river system is threatened by a lack of freshwater coming downstream from federally controlled dams on the Chattahoochee and Flint rivers in Georgia. The two rivers merge at the Florida state line where the Jim Woodruff Dam rises in Chattahoochee to form the Apalachicola. The low freshwater flow–which has been the subject of 20 years of litigation–has contributed over the last 30 years to the loss of 4 million trees in the river’s flood plain and to the recent collapse of the oyster population in Apalachicola Bay.”_
Like most water wars around the country, there is no end in sight for this one. A very wet summer that capped off a four-year drought certainly helped, but unless Florida can convince the Corps of Engineers and a sympathetic judge that the crashing oyster population is just a bellweather of a greater environmental disaster, we may have to find our oysters elsewhere.
After Wood Duck and I parted ways on Monday, I stopped in at one of my favorite oyster bars in Apalachicola, Up the Creek, and ordered a couple dozen bivalves and a pound of peel-and-eat shrimp. I was happy to see the price of oysters hadn’t changed since my last visit in 2012, but as I stood on the deck, I didn’t see a single low-slung oyster boat coming back up the river with a load piled high on its deck. Somehow that blunted the sweetness of those oysters just a bit.