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Troublesome Times On The Apalachicola River!

Nov 29, 2007
To those of us who've spent early evenings mesmerized by astoundingly beautiful purple and gold sunsets over Apalachicola Bay in Northwest Florida, the drought in Georgia and Alabama is becoming a personal matter. Even though I live 400 miles from this blissful bay between Apalachicola and St. George Island, I dream that some day I'll be a resident of the area and fish to my heart's content! I hope the bay will continue to be the wonderful place it now.

While attending the annual Oyster Spat Festival on St. George Island in the early part of October, I learned what a spat was and the trouble Apalachicola oysters were facing due to water shortages in Georgia. I also learned that in addition to killing my grass at home in Alabama, the drought was responsible for the Apalachicola River not pouring enough fresh water into Apalachicola Bay!

After a little investigation I learned that a spat is actually a baby oyster; a fact I never knew. I'd never really given the subject of how oysters reproduce a lot of thought! A female oyster or a male oyster, depending on the salinity and temperature of the water can produce over 100,000 eggs.

The eggs that don't get eaten by small fish or other predators can drift up to two weeks in a great white cloud until settling to the bottom of the bay and cementing themselves to any solid surface as a tiny oyster, called spats.

The Apalachicola River, which is fed by the Chattahoochee River in Georgia, provides fresh water to the Bay, breaking down the salinity of the salt water. The result is a paradise for oysters, scallops and other marine life. Now that river is providing less fresh water each year, with more and more oysters being found dead in their shell.

Apalachicola Bay is a fertile and friendly body of water and a workplace for hundreds of residents of the area. An estimated 10 percent of the nation's oysters are supplied by the Apalachicola area. Men and women, who have been oystering for generations, now find that the once large hauls of oysters are getting smaller each year. While it's hard work for the oystermen, or tongers, as they're called in Apalachicola, it's a very picturesque scene to see the oyster skiffs on a mirror flat bay, bringing up oysters as they've done for years.

The reason for the alarm is the drought farther north in Georgia. Television news has told us that Atlanta's main source of water, Lake Lanier, is drying up. Some say that they have less than 90 days before the lake is emptied of useable water. The situation is so desperate the Governor held a prayer meeting for rain. Prayer! What a concept!

The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, who control the amount of water sent down the river from Georgia, has recommended to Washington to reduce the amount of water allowed to flow downstream to Apalachicola, leaving more water for those folks in Atlanta. That's a scary proposition for oysters!

The great debate of course is whether the people of Atlanta need fresh water more than the oysters of Apalachicola Bay. Without enough fresh water in the bay, grass beds also dry up, thereby eliminating safe breeding grounds for all manner of fish, including grouper, snapper, redfish and many other hatchlings. All this means less fish for the region in years to come. Let's not forget the mussel and sturgeon of the bay, which are on the endangered species lists.

The drought is severe! It not only affects the residents of Georgia and Alabama, by allowing the reduction in water flow of the Apalachicola River, but it could wipe out the oyster industry and destroy a beautiful and pristine body of water.

The ecology of the bay area is changing at an alarming rate. I like people, but I love oysters too! Maybe Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue is on to something! There might be something to this prayer thing!
About the Author
Bob Alexander is well experienced in outdoor cooking, fishing and leisure living. Bob is also the author and owner of this article. Visit his sites at:
http://www.redfishbob.com
http://www.bluemarlinbob.com
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