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A contentious Farm Bill heads to U.S. House for debate. Also on our rundown: gaps cited in protections for small-business employees and nonprofit volunteers; plus power out for much of Puerto Rico; and some warning signs, that increased youth activism may not correspond to voter turnout.

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Future of Florida Seafood in Jeopardy: Lawmakers Asked to Act

Photo: Oystermen on Apalachicola Bay. Courtesy: Doug Wakeman, Apalachicola Riverkeeper
Photo: Oystermen on Apalachicola Bay. Courtesy: Doug Wakeman, Apalachicola Riverkeeper
August 13, 2013

APALACHICOLA, Fla. - The source of much of Florida's seafood is being "decimated" by a decades-long tug of war over water rights involving Georgia, Alabama and Florida, according to the state's seafood industry and conservation groups. Today, representatives of both will rally at the Franklin County Court House to ask federal lawmakers to settle the competing needs for the water that feeds the Apalachicola River and Bay.

According to Preston Robertson, vice president and general counsel for the Florida Wildlife Federation, the issue must be resolved now.

"We're in a bad way," he stated. "We need some direction, and we especially need some leadership to figure out how to get adequate amounts of water at the right time, down the river, from the dam."

Today, members of the U.S. Senate are meeting in Apalachicola to hold a field hearing on the effect of water flow on the river and bay. Robertson said most of the water that would naturally feed the region is used up by Atlanta for drinking water before it can flow downstream.

Ninety percent of the oyster harvest in Florida and 13 percent of the nation's oysters come from the region. According to Dan Tonsmeire, the Apalachicola Riverkeeper, the seafood industry is suffering after 30 years of inconsistent and depleted river flows.

"The oysters are decimated," he declared. "All of the commercially-harvested species in the bay have been impacted. It is not a sustainable fishery."

For the last three decades Alabama, Georgia and Florida have been charged with negotiating fair usage of the water, but Tonsmeire said they've been unsuccessful.

"So far, the states have not been able to work it out, after all these years," he said. "We believe that Congress has got to take some action to level the playing field, give Florida its water rights back."

Earlier this year a provision was added to the federal Water Resources Development Act that would ensure Florida and Alabama more water, but that was deleted before the bill passed. Florida's Senators Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson are hoping today's hearing might help gain momentum in Congress for such a provision.



Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - FL