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Suwannee Sound Oysters

Two people standing knee deep in water are bending over to pick something out of the water.

Historically most oysters harvested in Florida came from Apalachicola Bay. Currently the Suwannee Sound – Cedar Key region provides much of the harvest in Florida and is also a leader in aquaculture development. Since the federal fishery disaster declaration in Apalachicola Bay in 2012, there have been increasing concerns that oyster resources in Suwannee Sound could become overfished. In addition, there is currently a lack of fishery-independent data which is needed to evaluate the state of oyster resources in Suwannee Sound.

In 2021, FWRI received grants from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) and Florida Trustee Implementation Group (TIG) to fund two projects in the Suwannee Sound – Crystal River area. This allowed for staffing and equipping a new field laboratory in Yankeetown. Oyster surveys and monitoring activities for both projects will provide the baseline oyster density, recruitment, habitat, and water quality data needed to understand the current state of oyster resources in Suwannee Sound and surrounding areas. Survey data from the NFWF project will be incorporated into a shell budget model. Since oysters create their own habitat, the shell budget model subtracts shell that is removed by harvest, wave action, and other processes from shell that is added when oysters settle and grow on the reef. The balance of the shell budget indicates to fishery managers if oyster resources are increasing, decreasing, or stable. Oyster survey, recruitment, and water quality monitoring data from the TIG project will contribute to the development of a map-based habitat suitability index for oysters. This will show what areas are most likely to support oysters based on environmental conditions and be a useful tool for guiding future restoration projects.