Gulf of Mexico
Areas of restricted and permitted oyster harvesting.

FL - New maps greatly reduce boundaries of Pensacola Bay system oyster harvest

As predicted in September, a state rule change due to be implemented Wednesday will drastically reduce the size of the area within the Pensacola Bay System in which oysters can be farmed and harvested.

A map sent out Friday by the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services extends areas in Pensacola, Escambia, Blackwater Bay and adjacent East Bay where farming and harvesting will be prohibited.

The off limits area in Escambia Bay was extended for several miles east and south and farming and harvesting will now be prohibited in Blackwater Bay in a region extending nearly eight miles from north of Escribano Point almost to White Point. The prohibition was also expanded west from the East Bay River into the easternmost portion of East Bay.

Rising bacteria levels, and the contamination those cause, are being blamed for the further limiting of farming and harvesting activities.

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Could Pensacola become a mecca for oyster farmers? A group is working to make it happen

Galveston Bay oyster fishing area to be closed next week, Houston Chronicle / January 13, 2023

Contamination could make large chunks of NWFL waters off-limits for oyster farming

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The Department of Agriculture sends officers out routinely to collect water samples in local bays. Those samples are tested in an Apalachicola lab for the presence of Coliform bacteria. In September, it was announced that the sampling had revealed bacteria in a large portion of the Pensacola Bay system that made growing oysters for human consumption unsafe.

"The bacterial counts in the water samples from stations in this area have been increasing, so we are revising the management plan for this area to protect the public health with respect to shellfish consumption," FDACS said in a statement at the time it announced the rule change.

The proposed rule amendments will reclassify some shellfish harvesting areas to "protect the health of shellfish consumers and to provide access to renewable shellfish resources," FDACS said.

On Friday, the agency also announced that the entire Bay system will be closed to the cultivation of oysters following significant rain events.

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