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Workin' from cain to cain't


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Workin' from cain to cain't challenges within Florida's Gulf Coast oyster industry
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Wakeman, Diane Marie
University of South Florida
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Tampa, Fla
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Public health
Dissertations, Academic -- Humanities -- Masters -- USF   ( lcsh )
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ABSTRACT: Oyster tongers are a cultural icon of Florida's maritime heritage and geography. Challenged for generations by the vagaries of weather, including catastrophic storms and years-long droughts, and economic uncertainties this maritime heritage is fading fast. While Florida's north and west coasts produce 90 percent of the Florida oyster harvest and ten percent of oysters consumed in the United States, the industry is at risk today for reasons including a declining demand for Florida oysters because of health concerns; water pollution; population growth and its accompanying development of condominiums, gated communities, and retail shopping centers; and declining interest in the hard work of oystering as a livelihood. This work investigates those challenges to Florida's Gulf Coast oyster industry through the lens of a twenty-first century consumer. I examine why the U.S.Department of Agriculture considers raw oysters a significant challenge to public health and how local, state, and federal government regulations, along with cooperative efforts of the seafood industry, offset the potential for oysters to convey foodborne illness to human consumers. The fact that raw oysters carry a high propensity for conveying bacterial disease makes them a unique marketing challenge, especially outside of months that have an r in them. As a subject of culinary tourism, Florida oystering maintains an iconic maritime heritage. The labor force of the commercial oystering business has ranged widely-from migrant mothers working with toddlers at their side and their school-age children forgoing education for shucking oysters at the turn of the twentieth century to a new, Hispanic work force whose strong work ethic heartily satisfies oyster processors as local interest for the hard work in the industry declines.The threat to sustainability of both the working traditions of the Apalachicola oyster folk, and the oysters themselves as a bountiful resource, grows in direct proportion to the environmental pressures fostered by rapid and poorly-regulated population growth. A legitimate question might be, given the difficulties of the work and challenges to the industry, is it worth the state's effort to help sustain this industry?
Thesis (M.L.A.)--University of South Florida, 2009.
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by Diane Marie Wakeman.
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Workin from Cain to Caint: Challenges within Floridas Gulf Coast Oyster Industry by Diane Marie Wakeman A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Liberal Arts Department of Florida Studies College of Arts and Sciences University of South Florida, St. Petersburg Major Professor: Christopher F. Meindl, Ph.D. Gary R. Mormino, Ph.D. Raymond O. Arsenault, Ph.D. Date of Approval: November 16, 2009 Keywords: Apalachicola, heritage public health, shellfish, seafood Copyright 2009, Diane M. Wakeman


Table of Contents List of Figures ii Abstract iv Introduction 1 Chapter One: Biological and Historical Perspectives 7 Chapter Two: Public Health and Marketing Challenges 31 Chapter Three: Apalachicola: Shi pping and Seafood Processing Emerges 60 Chapter Four: Environmental and Cultural Sustainability 72 Conclusion 91 References 95 Appendices 101 Appendix A: Apalachicola Shellf ish Summer Harvesting Areas Map 102 Appendix B: Florida Seafood Oysters Brochure 103 i


List of Figures Figure 1. A husband and wife oystering team make an early morning start Into Apalachicola Bay from Eastpoint 1 Figure 2. 2008 U.S. Domestic Landi ngs Top Five Species/Groups Compared to Oysters 10 Figure 3. U.S. Eastern Oyster Harvest (Millions of Pounds and Dollars) by Region 11 Figure 4. Washington State Commerc ial Oyster Landings (Millions) 12 Figure 5. Eastern Oyster Harvest Along Floridas Gulf Coast since 1982 13 Figure 6. Florida Commercial Oyster Landings (Millions) by Region 15 Figure 7. Road fill shell pit 25 Figure 8. Steam-roller packing shells for Apalachicola roadbed in 1910 27 Figure 9. A period example of tab by construction, Gamble Plantation in Manatee County, c. 1902 29 Figure 10. Numbers of Vibrio Infections Reported along Floridas Gulf Coast 33 Figure 11. Vibrio vulnificus infection must be tr eated with massive doses of antibiotics 34 Figure 12. A buoy identifying a sh ellfish harvesting area 46 Figure 13. Florida Shellfish Harvesting Areas Classification 49 Figure 14. Oysterman Cletis Anderson cu lls his harvest in the waters of Apalachicola, 1986 50 Figure 15. A young oyster fisher Randy Summerford 63 Figure 16. Six members of Slebzak family in field, five of whom are working on Bottomley's farm near Baltimore, Maryland 64 Figure 17. Children work and play among oyster shells in a Gulf cannery, c. 1918 65 ii


Figure 18. Women shucking oysters at the Apalachicola Fish and Oyster Company, 1947 70 Figure 19. Population Trends in Franklin County, Florida 83 Figure 20. Ethnic Composition of Franklin County and Florida 84 Figure 21. Comparison of Mean Annual Income Between Franklin County and Florida 86 Figure 22. Skiff stored in backyard, 2009 87 Figure 23. A thriving 13-Mile Oyster Company in Apalachicola, Florida 88 Figure 24. A typical example of many of the oyster houses closed as a result of hurricane or economic stresses 89 Figure 25. Modern-day oyster shuckers 92 iii


Working from Cain to Caint: Challenges to Floridas Gulf Oyster Industry Diane M. Wakeman ABSTRACT Oyster tongers are a cultur al icon of Floridas mariti me heritage and geography. Challenged for generations by the vagaries of weather, including catastrophic storms and years-long droughts, and economic uncertainties this maritime heritage is fading fast. While Floridas north and west coasts produce 90 percent of the Florida oyster harvest and ten percent of oysters consumed in the Unit ed States, the industry is at risk today for reasons including a declining demand for Flor ida oysters because of health concerns; water pollution; population growth and its accompanying development of condominiums, gated communities, and retail shopp ing centers; and declining inte rest in the hard work of oystering as a livelihood. This work investigates those challenges to Floridas Gulf Coast oyster industry through the lens of a twenty-first century consumer. I examine why the U.S. Department of Agriculture considers raw oysters a significant challenge to public health and how local, state, and federal government regulations, along with cooperative efforts of the seafood industry, offset the potential for oyste rs to convey foodborne illness to human consumers. The fact that raw oysters carry a high propensity for conveying bacterial disease makes them a unique marketing challenge especially outside of months that have an r in them. As a subject of culinary tourism, Florida oystering maintains an iconic iv


v maritime heritage. The labor force of the commercial oystering business has ranged widelyfrom migrant mothers working with to ddlers at their side and their school-age children forgoing education for shucking oysters at the turn of the twentieth century to a new, Hispanic work force whose strong work ethic heartily satisfies oyster processors as local interest for the hard work in the industr y declines. The threat to sustainability of both the working traditions of the Apalachicola oyster folk, and the oysters themselves as a bountiful resource, grows in direct proportion to the enviro nmental pressures fostered by rapid and poorly-regulated population growth. A legitimate question might be, given the difficulties of the work and challenges to th e industry, is it worth the states effort to help sustain th is industry?


Introduction I arrived in the small coastal town of Apalachicola, Florida, one late October evening in 2008. Closed signs hung crookedly on the doors of the local seafood diners. I sighed in disappointment at having to pos tpone indulging my appetite for freshly shucked, salt-tinged local oyste rs on the half-shell. The wait for tomorrows supper only intensified my desire for the tasty bivalves. Figure 1. A husband and wife oystering team make an early morning start into Apalachicola Bay from Eastpoint. Photo by author. As morning sun spread along the watery horizon, a dozen or more small wooden skiffs skim across the shallow water of Apal achicola Bay. Each skiff cradles one or two lean and sun-leathered adults. About one-half mile offshore, every boat stops abruptly at some predetermined pointa marker not visibl e to an outsider. With wind-battered and weather-faded hats drawn low against the sun s persistent glare, th e fisherpeople balance 1


on walk boards lining a skiffs length, knees loosely poised to ride in lazy swells. Then, in long-practiced rhythm, rough hands gr asp long, worn but sturdy wooden poles fashioned into rusty iron -forged scissored rakes. With a vise-like grip, the oysterman plunges tongs into murky water feeding the ten-foot length toward the bottoms resistan ce, sending urgent ripples along the surface. Shuffling the rakes, the oysterman shifts hi s weight and in one swift motion swings a dripping load of shells and sand and debris up in a low arc. He je rks the tongs open, and the little boat reverberates with the crack a nd rattle of oysters fa lling against the culling boards braced on the width of the boat. As he works his goal of ten 60-pound bags of oysters, he let th e boat drift just a few feet further. This oysterman is lucky to have help today. As he positioned his rake to repeat the weighty proce ss of plunging, reaching, grabbing, and lifting, an equally tanned and lean woman, crows feet carved deep into her face, scrabbled into the catch, quickly culling and tossing overboard debris an d oysters too small to meet the legal size limit. Then, plying with a heavy culling iron, she chips away at clus ters of shells bound in growth over time. Some of the load yi elded marketable oysters, and the oysterwoman handily piles up the takeable harvest. The scene is repeated again and again, proven by the growing mound of sodden burlap bags of oysters balan ced along the sagging skiff. The suns midday heat reminded the weary fi sherpeople that they must soon cease their work. The warm temperatures may destroy th e oysters, which must be kept cool enough to keep them alive. Watching from the banks of Apalachicola Bay, with telephone poles and power lines to my back, I viewed the scene before me as timeless. I imagined that I could be in 2


this same place at this same time of the day in 1909 or 2009. In this mega-profit driven age of high productivity and cutting edge technologies, oyster folk cultivated and sustained ancient crafts in whatever physical conditions nature grants them. Tonight both locals and tourists will enjoy the fruits of their labor at home or at one of many restaurants in the region. Like other cu rious epicures, I admit that my gastronomicinspired visit to this so-called Forgotten Co ast of Florida would have been less satisfying without seeing scattered oys ter skiffs plying their way slowly across the bay.1 What a life, I thought. Why do they do it? What are the challenges? How do they survive? What, if anything, has changed over time for these Florida fisher folk and their industry? What lies between their effort and the oysters on my plate? How much of a gamble with ones health is there in eating raw oysters? This thesis attempts to answer these questions and more. My investigation of Floridas Gulf Coast oyster industry involved many rich primary source resources. It was no hardsh ip for me to make multiple trips to Apalachicola to interview oyster tongers and their families, shuckers, packers and distributors, and business repr esentatives. Stalking clue s in the cozy confines of Apalachicolas Public Library, I flipped thr ough folder upon folder of cuttings and notes. Then, I quizzed many persons who had some recollection of the regions oystering tradition. In Floridas state capital, Tallahassee, represen tatives of the Aquaculture Division of the Florida Department of Agri culture and Consumer Services gave me insights to the complexities of regulatory measur es to ensure public health and safety. In 1 The Forgotten Coast of the Florida panhandle is a term commonly applied to the east coast of Bay County and all of Gulf and Franklin Counties; in other words from about the town of Mexico Beach in the west to the town of Carrabelle in the east. Forgotten Coast is also applied as a marketing term by the local tourism and business trade organizations in the same region. 3


the depths of the State Archives, enthusiastic staff permitted me to prowl through numerically identified boxes of correspondence and turn page s of fragile ledgers. The staff of the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve patiently answered my questions about Apalachicola Bay and its feeder rivers, and librarians at the University of South Floridas Shimberg Health Sciences Library indulged my cu riosity about public health resources. Discussions with marine biologists and culinary tourism experts yielded stimulating ideas for wide considerati on of sustainability issues. I found valuable treasures in newspapers such as the New York Times, Apalachicola Advertiser, Tampa Tribune, and St. Petersburg Times. The research effort has been a bountiful and exciting route of firsthand discovery of a special aspect of Floridas maritime heritage. Chapter One provides a historical and bi ological overview of oysters with a focus that shifts from an international view to North America, and finally to Florida. In addition to protecting the raw creature, the oys ters shell provides a variety of practical uses, from road fill to fertilizer, which I will introduce through a Florida lens. Raw oysters are among the most dangerous foods people can eat. How do they make people sick? Who is most likely to succumb to illness as a resu lt of eating oysters? Who eats raw oysters? What are the benefits of cooking oysters before consuming them? How does the oyster industry market a product of such notoriety? What drives the culture of suspicion surroundi ng oysters? What kind of government regulation assures their safe consumption? Chapte r Two addresses these questions. Ninety percent of Floridas oyster harv est occurs in the waters in and around Apalachicola Bay.2 In recent years, development pressure, hurricane destruction, and river water allocation conflicts between Florid a, Georgia, and Alabama have challenged 2 Kevin McCarthy, Apalachicola Bay (Sarasota: Pineapple Press, 2004), 65. 4


the viability of oyste rs in this region. Chapter Thr ee examines these environmental stresses to this rich estuarine eco system on Floridas north coast. Chapter Four probes the lives and community of Apalachicola oyster folk as well as the cultural traditions that encourage tour ists to visit this Forgotten Coast. The maritime heritage of the region is inherent to Floridas Gulf Coast, but is it doomed because of environmental, economic, and cultura l stresses? Will the picturesque view of oyster tongers bobbing on the wa ters surface under the midday sun disappear from the tourist marketing literature? Will this glimpse of time gone by vanish? Indeed, given the difficulty of working in the oyster business relative to other ways of making a living today, is it worth the effort to sustain this way of life? I always recommended that diners ask for Apalachicola oysters by name from their local seafood retailer. I used to suggest not bothering to cook them, but rather to dress them lightly with freshly squeezed lemon juice, tilt the half shell, and slurp them down with gusto. Little did I know that by the e nd of my research for this thesis I would temper my recommendations by reminding people to consider their current state of health before indulging in any raw oysters. Nor do I concur with the argument that oysters are safe to eat if they are cooked according to public-health safety recommendations. While I believe people must determine for themselves whether they might be at high-risk for oyster-borne illness, for those who crave these tasty morsels of the sea, I recommend seeking oysters certified as having received post-harvest treatments to reduce harmful pathogens. However, the delight of indulging in fres hly-caught local oysters at a water-side table in an Apalachicola restaurant is a st rong magnet for many people. Consideration of 5


the long-time tradition of the regions oyster harvest adds to the pleasurable experience, so, by exploring the Florida oyster industry in depth, we might decide whether it is worth saving. 6


Chapter One Biological and Historical Perspectives A loaf of bread, the walrus said, is what we chiefl y need; pepper and vinegar be sides are very good indeed Now if you're ready, oysters, dear, we can begin to feed! Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll Australian aboriginals indulge in plump witjuti grubs plucked straight from the tree; Ethiopians enjoy honeycombs laced with live bee larvae; the Masai drink cattle blood; and modern Florida coas tal dwellers, like the Calusa Indians centuries before us and much of humankind since first walking upon Earth, delight in the primal feasting of oysters.3 As early as 5000 BC, various Indian tr ibes throughout Florid a, living on or near the coast, consumed enormous quantities of shellfish and discarded huge numbers of shells in massive middens, some as high as forty feet near the St. Johns River.4 Intimate, sensual, naturalthis is how oyster hedonists describe the raw oyster eating experience. You are eating the sea, that s it, only the sensation of a gulp of sea water has been wafted out of it by some sorcery, 5 espouses one enthusiast. While oyster meat provides an easily obtaina ble, uniquely nutritious source of protein and minerals, particularly for people who liv e in a coastal ecosystem, the shells can be recycled and 3The Calusa were a North American aboriginal society that inhabited the Gulf Coast of Florida south of Charlotte Harbor and were among the first Native American peoples encountered by European explorers during the middle of the 16th century. Archaeologists describe th e Calusa as a complex sociopolitical society that primarily subsisted on fish and shellfis h. Their remarkable population, estimated between 4,000 and 7,000, is an indicator of the bountiful carrying capacity of their seafood-rich environment. Randolph J. Widmer, The Evolution of the Calusa: A Nonagricultural Chiefdom on the Southwest Florida Coast (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1988), 3-11; Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, Near a Thousand Tables: A History of Food, (New York: The Free Press, 2002), 2. 4 Wilfred T. Neill, Odds are 12,000 to 1 but there are pearls in Florida oysters, St. Petersburg Times, 30 December 1979. 5 Ibid. 7


reprocessed in a myriad of ways. The oyste r is part of humankinds longest alimentary story. Ever-changing water environments and concurrently changing cultural traditions have shaped its sporadic popularity over time. In some eras, oysters were often a delicacy reserved for the elite. In other times, oysters served as the mainstay food of the commoner and peasant. According to historian Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, Foods shift places in the hierarchy of social acceptability with bewildering ease and rapidity. Sometimes, the shif t is induced by changes in availabilityoystersleapt up the social scale as their breeding grounds shrank.6 A 1940 press release of the U.S. Fish and W ildlife Service reported that while other countries considered the oyster a luxury food because of limited availability, the 1938 U.S. harvest of 17 thousand bushels, or 87 million pounds of oyster meat, qualified the bivalve as a staple article of food, at prices within the re ach of all classes of people.7 In Europe, from ancient times to present day, oysters have been considered a delicacy. In Mid-Atlantic col onial America, country gentlemen drew succulent treats from the rivers, inlets, and baysthink of sout hern-fried oysters, pi ckled oysters, oysters farcis, pan-broiled oysters, scallope d oysters, oysters wrapped in bacon.8 An abundance of oysters in nineteenth-century America supplied burgeoning oyster bars and even had vendors selling the tast y sea morsels from pushcarts in city streets. In 1877, patrons consumed fifty thousand oysters da ily at New Yorks Fulton Fish Market.9 A 6 Fernandez-Armesto, Near a Thousand Tables, 125. 7 U.S. Dept. of the Interior Fish and Wildlife Service, Press Release, P.N. 112875, 1 September 1940. 1938s harvest numbers were the latest available to the agency in 1940. 8 The American Heritage Cookbook and Illustrated History of American Eating and Drinking (American Heritage Publishing Co., Inc., 1964), 124. 9 Ibid., 352. 8


similarly plentiful supply in late-nineteenth-centu ry Britain provided even the most common man with his fill of the treasure from the sea. 10 Americans of all walks of life were partial to their oysters. Mark Twain, dissatisfied with the food he experienced during a trip to Europe in 1878, spent part of his return voyage listing th e American foods he had most missed and was anxious to eat upon his return. He listed oysters multiple ti mes: fried oysters, stewed oysters, Blue Points on the half shell, oyster soup, and oys ters roasted in shell, Northern style.11 The abundance of American oysters during the ni neteenth-century provided an egalitarian period of oyster enjoyment nationw ide. Joan Reardon, author of Oysters, A Culinary Celebration, tells us that in 1857 an English visito r to the United States, observed, The rich consume oysters and champagne; the poorer classes consume oysters and lager bier, and that is one of the principal social di fferences between the two sections in each community. 12 It was during the late nineteen th century when development and expansion of Henry Plant and Henry Flagle rs railroads in Florida, along with the recently developed refrigerated train cars, allowed Apalachicola oysters to be shipped beyond the states boundaries where they were co nsidered a delicacy as far north as New England. In her 1880 descriptions of local St. A ugustine foods, Sylvia Sunshine reported that seafood was plentiful: Fine Matanzar oysters are kept for sale in or out of the shell, 10 Fernandez-Armesto, Near a Thousand Tables 126. 11 American Heritage Cookbook 370-371. 12 Joan Reardon, Oysters, A Culinary Celebration (Guildford, CT: The Lyons Press, 2004), 4. 9


as the purchaser may choose. If any appearance of starvation has ever faced visitors here, no one has perished here from hunger.13 Despite impressive harvest numbers, no oysters of any kind currently rank in the top five species of U.S. commercial fishi ng harvest (see Figure 2). Of the mollusk family, only scallops rank in the top five specie s in dollar value. It is interesting to note that in 2007 the live weight of world-wide fisheries, including all farmed and captured species, was 309.5 billion pounds, of which th e United States share equaled only 3.8 percent, or 7.1 billion pounds.14 Rank Species Lbs (Million) % Rank Species $ (Million) % 1 Pollack 2298 28 1 Crabs 562 13 2 Menhaden 1341 16 2 Shrimp 442 10 3 Flatfish 663 8 3 Salmon 395 9 4 Salmon 668 8 4 Scallops 372 8 5 Hakes 550 7 5 Lobsters 337 8 n/a Oysters* 30 8 n/ a Oysters 132 n/a *U.S. Commercial landings of oysters in edible meat weight only Figure 2. 2008 U.S. Domestic Landings Top Five Species Groups Ranked by Weight and Dollar Value Compared to Oysters Source: NMFS Fisheries Statistics Division, Statistical Highlights, Fisheries of the United States, 2008. Available at, 1; and NMFS Commercial Statistics available at fus08/02_commercial2008.pdf, 4. Along the east coast of North America, the most abundantly harvested oyster is Crassostrea virginica, commonly called the Eastern or American oyster. Figure 3 illustrates the distribution of the entire U.S. harvest of the Eastern oyster. Note the small amount of Eastern oyster commercial harveste d in the Pacific region of the U.S. An import from Japan, Crassostrea gigas, or the Pacific oyster, is the predominant oyster of 13 Sylvia Sunshine, Petals Plucked from Sunny Climes, 1880. (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1976), 206. 14 National Marine Fisheries Services, Statistics Division, Statistical Highlights, Fisheries of the United States, 2008. Available at 1. 10


commercial harvest along North Americas Pacific coast. Prolific on the California coast until the late 1800s when overharvesting anni hilated its population, the smaller native oyster, Ostreola conchophilia, commonly known as the Olympia oyster, is making a comeback in the San Francisco Bay area. Figure 4 reveals how the popularity of the Pacific oyster, and its productive adaptati on to the environment of the Washington coastline, have made it a serious contender in the states economy. Gulf Chesapeake South Atlantic Mid-Atlantic New England Pacific Year Lbs $ Lbs $ Lbs $ Lbs $ Lbs $ Lbs $ 1998 20.56 46.31 2.68 8.29 0.52 1.77 0.94 4.04 1.60 9.73 n/a n/a 1999 24.02 48.57 2.79 8.08 0.52 2.03 0.48 1.96 1.43 11.69 n/a n/a 2000 25.77 53.12 2.53 7.67 0.53 2.04 0.35 2.28 0.75 5.54 n/a n/a 2001 25.62 52.00 1.48 4.36 0.57 2.26 0.73 4.23 0.49 4.20 n/a n/a 2002 24.11 53.29 0.66 2.49 0.55 2.14 1.05 7.33 0.31 3.13 n/a n/a 2003 27.03 61.63 0.24 0.97 0.59 2.35 1.26 7.93 0.35 3.52 n/a n/a 2004 25.05 60.85 0.09 0.38 0.69 2.91 0.77 5.29 0.27 3.02 0.00 0.02 2005 20.17 56.51 0.74 3.43 0.73 3.30 0.46 3.27 0.20 4.57 0.03 0.13 2006 19.67 62.32 0.29 1.35 0.81 3.85 0.69 5.14 0.42 9.63 0.03 0.16 2007 22.52 69.53 0.49 4.33 0.77 3.80 0.65 5.35 0.58 12.88 0.03 0.15 2008 20.41 59.51 0.60 4.96 0.84 3.97 0.75 5.83 0.19 7.10 0.10 0.05 Totals 254.94 621.38 12.59 46.31 7.09 30.44 8.14 52.63 6.58 75.01 0.19 0.50 Figure 3 U.S. Eastern Oyster Harvest (Millions of Pounds and Dollars) by Region New England=Maine to Connecticut Mid-Atlantic=New York, New Je rsey, Pennsylvania, Delaware Chesapeake=Maryland, Virginia South Atlantic=North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, East Florida Gulf=West Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas Source: NOAA National Marine Fisheries Commercial Landi ngs Statistics at In fact, the state of Washington hosts the most oyster farms in North America; commercial oyster harvesting in California a nd Oregon is minor compared to that in Washington.15 Those farms mostly cultivate the Pacific, or Japanese oyster, Crassostrea 15 Jay Harlow, Oysters: Grand Crus on the Half Shell. Sallys Place website, /harlow/oysters.htm For the sake of reasonable comparison because of the very 11


gigas which tolerates the colder and saltier waters of the Pacific coast and its deeper estuaries. The area provides a terrific yiel d of various flavored oysters for west coast consumers, in much the same way environmen tal conditions alter the flavors of Floridas oysters. Former Tampa restau rateur Robert Richards clai ms, however, the Pacific oysters have a bitter taste, probably due to a higher salt content.16 Floridas Gulf Coast harvest of the East ern Oyster in 2008 (see Figure 5) of just about 2.5 million pounds makes Washingtons 2008 Eastern Oyster harvest of 104 thousand pounds look poor. However, the we ight of Washingtons 2008 Pacific Oyster harvest was significantly more than that of Floridas East ern oyster harvest. Eastern Oyster Pacific Oyster Year Lbs $ Lbs $ 1998 6.49 17.0 1999 6.75 17.4 2000 8.44 22.1 2001 9.43 24.6 2002 9.92 25.3 2003 9.63 25.8 2004 0.00 0.02 11.00 30.9 2005 0.03 0.01 12.10 33.1 2006 0.03 0.16 12.20 36.9 2007 0.03 0.15 11.70 34.8 2008 0.10 0.05 10.10 28.9 Totals 0.20 0.50 107.76 296.8 Figure 4. Washington State Commercial Oyster Landings (Millions) Source: NOAA National Marine Fisheries Commercial Landings Statistics at low amounts of commercial oysters harvested in Ca lifornia and Oregon, I ch ose to concentrate my comparison of Floridas Gu lf Coast commercial oyster harvest with Washington states commercial oyster harvest. 16 Telephone interview with Robert Richards, a 75year old Tampa Bay native who was raised on the water and who is a former owner of The Seabreeze Re staurant, a long-time favorite seafood restaurant on the Causeway in South Tampa, August 2007. 12


The Eastern Oyster is Floridas only commercial oyster, and ninety percent of the Florida harvest takes place in Apalachicola Bay in Floridas northwest panhandle. The St. Petersburg Times described the area as the rich est oyster ground for its size in the United Statessupplying ten percent of the nations oysters.17 Meanwhile, the rich estuarine waters of the Suwannee River in Dixie and Levy Counties provide most of Floridas remaining commercial oyster harvest.18 Figure 5 illustrates the oy ster harvest on Floridas Gulf Coast over the last 25 years, which had seen an abrupt downward trend until 1989; but a series of droughts and several seasons of hurricanes in the ea rly decade of 2000 to 2009 cut the commercial harvest significantly. Hurri cane Elena in 1985 was particularly devastating in its destruction of the regions oys ter beds and it took several years for them to recover. Eastern Oyster Harvest along Florida's Gulf Coast Since 19820.0 1.0 2.0 3.0 4.0 5.0 6.0 7.01982 1 984 1 986 1 98 8 1990 1992 1 994 1 99 6 1 99 8 20 0 0 2002 2004 2 006 20 0 8YearPounds, Milli o Figure 5 Eastern Oyster Harvest along Floridas Gulf Coast Since 1982 Source: NOAA Commercial Landings Statistics at rcial/landings/annuallandingshtml 17 Janis D. Smith, Oysters, St. Petersburg Times, 10 January 1985, D1. 18 Personal interview with David Heil, Assistant Direct or, Division of Aquaculture, State of Florida, in Tallahassee, Florida, on 13 August 2009. 13


Today aquaculture provides over 95 percent of the globa l oyster harvest; only five percent is wild-caught. The United States accounts for 88 percent of the global oyster harvest with the Gulf Coast st ates providing most landings.19 An argument can be made that oysters harvested in the Gulf of Mexico are the product of aquaculture because it is customary to broadcast spawning oysters (eggs and sperm) into natural oyster beds, where the spat will attach to their ideal cultchoyster shellor to broadcast the spat itself. This practice is especially useful after oyster beds have been negatively affected by hurricanes, or disease. Shell planting or cultch planting as well as oyster relaying and transplanting count as oyster aquaculture because, according to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (DACS) Division of Aquaculture these practices mitigate resource losses, enhance productivity, a nd contribute direct economic benefit to the oyster fishery.20 It is a program the state of Florida has maintained since the early 1900s, and it reli es heavily on collection of shucked oyster shells from oyster processors for depositing in reefs as an ideal cultch to which spat will attach.21 Another type of oyster aquaculture, off-bo ttom, exists in a few areas of the U.S. the practice of containing oyster spat in, sa y, net bags that are suspended from a fixed point in estuarine waters. As the oysters grow they are relayed into containers to better accommodate lesser density which provides them with adequate access to food sources 19 Jesse Marsh, Eastern Oyster-Final Report Southeast Region, Seafood Watch, Seafood Report, 21 April 2004, Monterey Bay Aquarium, accessed at odWatchEasternOysterReport.pdf 20 Oyster Resource Development, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Division of Aquaculture, accessed at http://www.floridaaquaculture .com/bad/badoysterplanthtm 21 Ibid. 14


diatomsin the waters in which they are submerged.22 Wild caught oysters, on the other hand, have existed naturally in their ecosystem for thousands of years and can be readily harvested from that environment. I would argue that Apalachicola oysterfolk practice a sustaining balance between aquaculture and w ild caught oysters. The oysters have long existed naturally in the bays waters and can be harvested, off-bottom, with simple equipment. However, the regions oyster beds are regularly nourished with recycled oyster shell and spat may be rel eased to attach to this ideal substrate. But, Apalachicola oyster farmers do not, as a rule, plant and then transplant oysters from one container to another as they grow to harv estable size, a more recognizable practice of aquaculture. Gulf Coast Atlantic Coast Year Lbs $ Lbs $ 1998 1.5 2.4 0.04 0.10 1999 2.3 3.6 0.04 0.10 2000 2.5 3.9 0.05 0.14 2001 2.5 3.9 0.04 0.10 2002 1.9 3.1 0.04 0.10 2003 1.8 2.9 0.04 0.11 2004 1.6 2.9 0.04 0.12 2005 1.4 2.8 0.04 0.13 2006 2.4 5.4 0.06 0.19 2007 3.0 6.6 0.03 0.12 2008 2.4 5.3 0.05 0.19 Totals 23.3 42.8 0.47 1.40 Figure 6. Florida Commercial Oyster Landings (Millions) by Region Source: NOAA National Marine Fisheries Annual Commercial Landing Statistics at ial/landings/annual_landings.html 22 Ibid.; Eastern Oyster (Farmed) Blue Ocean Institute, accessed at http://www.blueo 15


Figure 6 illustrates the disparity between the commercial oyster harvest on the west versus the east coast of Florida. An industry worth several million dollars to Florida annually, oystering continues to be subsidized by the state and sometimes even federal governments channeled through the Florida Depa rtment of Agriculture and Consumer Services. State funding provides continued abi lity to seed new oyster beds or transplant oysters to beds where they will be more like ly to mature to harvest size. However, todays consumers do their part to sustain th is unique Florida institution and maintain a tradition of oyster consumption that existed even before the Calusa built their shell mounds. Although deaths associated with contaminat ed water threw oysters out of culinary favor in Florida during the 1970s, they regained their status in the mid-1980s.23 Raw, roasted or fried, theyre the chic seafoodand some of the best come from Florida, declared the St. Petersburg Times in 1985.24 Yet as we will discover, generations of coastal Floridians have long considered the readily available mollusk a staple food item. To appreciate the subtleti es of variation in oyster flavor, it helps to understand how it grows. Oysters develop en masse attached to a solid surface in bodies of tidal water rich with nutrients. They feed by pumping and filtering between 25 and 100 gallons of water in a 24-hour period.25 Dependent on water currents for food, oysters thrive in clean water containing a balance of salinity and nutrients; however, they will 23Smith, Oysters. 24 Ibid. 25 My research found a wide variation in the amount of water pumped by an oyster in a 24-hour period. For example, McClane, on page 210 in The Encyclopedia of Fish Cookery claimed as much as 25 gallons of water every 24 hours. But Cook, in The Changeable World of the Oyster exclaims on page 16, Scientists studying Crassostrea have noted that one oyster can pump more than a hundred gallons of water in one day! Neither said to which oyster they referred. 16


tolerate occasional sudden cha nges in salinity and sediment.26 Estuaries provide a particularly productive loca tion for oyster beds where occasional muddy effluents characteristically full of molluscan nutrient s nourish the beds. These fertile waters host one-celled plants called diatom s, or plankton, that provide food for the oyster, a bivalve (two-shell) vegetarian mollusk. In turn, wa ter-borne minerals supply nourishment for the diatoms. In addition to water temperature a nd salinity, the balance of minerals contained in the diatoms directly influences the quality of the oyster, in particular its flavor, color, and nutritional value.27 In France, for example, diatoms in the Atlantic coastal waters of the Marennes region are very rich in plankton and tinge the meat of local oysters green, providing a flavor and texture highly prized in the Paris market.28 In the Tampa Bay area, however, restaurateurs reject Cedar Key oysters for a similar green tinge and slightly bitter taste. In Apalachicola, locals can discern whether oysters were harvested on the east or west side of the bay from their flavor and texture.29 However, Gulf of Mexico oysters do not garner rave reviews from all modern molluscan critics. Gulf oysters are not as sa lty as those on the Atlantic Coast, which may be part of their broader appeal to Southern oyster connoisseurs. The ready availability of Gulf of Mexico oysters is a convenience for restaurants and bars and provides almost year-round culinary pleasure for consumers natio nwide. Despite their assignment as the premier oyster appellation of the Gulf Coast by food writer Robb Walsh, 26 Joseph J. Cook, The Changeable World of the Oyster (New York: Dodd, Mead and Co., 1974), 9-10. 27 A. J. McClaine, The Encyclopedia of Fish Cookery (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1977), 210. 28 Ibid. 29 Telephone interview with Robert Richards, a 75year old Tampa Bay native who was raised on the water and who is a former owner of The Seabreeze Re staurant, a long-time favorite seafood restaurant on the Causeway in South Tampa, August 2007. Teleph one interview with Anita Grove, Executive Director, Apalachicola Chamber of Commerce on 25 August 2009. 17


Apalachicola oysters often invoke adj ectives such as mild or milky.30 In a recent book entitled The Oyster Guide: A Geography of Oysters Rowan Jacobsen argues that Gulf oysters dont change in flavor throughout the years as much as northern oysters. They are a little fatter in winter a little thinner in summer, but always mild and somewhat soft[and] are usually so ld as generic oysters.31 Warmer weather, and therefore warmer waters, stimulates reproduction in oysters; so, during the spawning period, the animals are more lean and watery than thos e harvested during the fall and winter. In The Encyclopedia of Fish Cookery A.J. McClaine desc ribes it this way: Although all oysters are edible during their spawning season or the months without an r in them, the production of glycogen (an animal starch) is excessive at that time, giving the meat a milky appearance and a blah taste. Northern oysters are at their best in the fall and wi nter months, while Gulf bivalves are firm and ripe from December onward.32 Along with the seemingly predictable seasonal differences in its culinary character, the Gulf oyster pr ovides some economic stability to the maritime communities vested in their harvest. Gulf Coast commercial oystermen practice pragmatic sustainability when it comes to maintaining a viable oyster product and harvest. Most practice some type of aquacu lture, or oyster farming: depos iting substrate or recycled shells in established oyster beds to whic h spat (young oysters) attach themselves, and from which they feed and gr ow until harvest. Or, oyster farmers might transfer, or relay 30 Robb Walsh, Sex, Death & Oysters: A Half-Shell Lovers World Tour (Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint, 2009), 25. 31 Gulf Coast map and description in Rowan Jacobsens online discussion of his book, The Oyster Guide: A Geography of Oysters: The Connoissuers Guide to Oyster Eating in North America (New York: Bloomsbury, 2008). Accessed at ; In 2003, the state of California banned the sale of oysters harvested in Gulf of Mexico between April 1 and October 31, unless the oysters are certified as having undergone post-harvest treatments to eliminate pathogens. Restrictions on Raw Gulf Oysters. Public Notice. Food and Drug Branch, California Department of Public Health, accessed under Regulations and Statutes at 32 McClain, The Encyclopedia of Fish Cookery, 211. 18


oysters for different reasons, say, from pollu ted to cleaner waters to undergo natural purification, or from cooler wa ters that inhibit growth to warmer waters that stimulate growth. While oyster shell is the preferred substrate for spat, farmed oysters will often grow on a variety of cultch (the solid material on which oysters attach) including smooth tiles, bundles of sticks or bamboo, or even broken building blocks.33 Ultimately, productive oyster beds will form naturally on whatever solid material happens to be available. Now in his seventies, Robert Richards, long-time owner of The Seabreeze, seafood restaurant, recalls h earing stories of how dredging in Tampa Bay during the 1920s affected the oyster supply. When the dredge swing chains wore out, tugboats dragged them clear of shipping lanes and de posited them in nearby DeLaney Creek, south of Tampas 22nd Street bridge. Within a few months, spat became attached to the chains, and the underwater dump became a rich oyster bed.34 The spat can grow rapidly from just a fraction of an inch to three inchesthe legal harvesting size, within 18 months. By contrast, a Chesapeake Bay oyster takes three ye ars to grow to the three-inches because cooler waters inhibit rapid growth.35 Despite the old wives ta le advising against consump tion of oysters in months without an r in them, modern refrigeration and distribution makes oysters readily available at any time of year. Cook specula tes the admonition is a consequence of the historic challenge to safely transporting oysters during summer months. Still, culinary perfectionists will insist that eating an oyster harvested during the summer signals lack of culinary discernment.36 33 Cook, The Changeable World, 64; Rebecca Stott, Oyster (London: Reaktion Books, 2004), 28. 34 Richards interview. 35 Smith, Oysters. 36 Cook, The Changeable World, 73. 19


Warm weather and the consequential wa rmer waters bring another challenge higher temperatures stimulate of ten harmful, or even deadly, water-borne bacteria that, once ingested by oysters, can remain with them from harvest to the consumers table. The oysters heightened potential for tr ansmitting foodborne illness makes the oyster industry the most highly regulat ed food business in the nation.37 More discussion will follow on public health and safety issues pe rtaining to the Gulfs shellfish industry. Harvesting in a productive reef, an oyst erman, or oysterwoman, might lift as much as thirty pounds per scoop as he or sh e works the 16 to 18-tooth tonging rakes and dumps that load onto a culling board in the boat.38 Once oystermen dump the contents of their tonging efforts into the boat, they m easure, cull, and then bag the oysters as 60pound bushels. Federal law mandates tagged iden tification of each bag. The states of Louisiana and Texas allow the use of mechanical dredgers to harves t oysters. Florida does not because of the potential permanent dama ge to its rich natural oyster beds. Yet skiffs and tongs, and boats and dredgers are not the only ways to collect oysters. Because of their easy accessibility in intertidal waters coon oysters provide a ready excuse for a family outing culminating in an oyster roast. A Gulf coast favorite, the coon oyster is so named because of its ready availability to both humans, and, particularly, raccoons for whom oysters provide a tasty treat.39 Some claim the coon oyster is nothing more than a 37 Heil interview. 38 Most people consider oyster harvesting with tongs the work of men; however, while some women tong for oysters, more women work as a culling partner to men, often their husband or another male family member. Some men work individually to tong and cull their own harvest; other men work in pairs periodically relieving each other of the heavy lifting by doing the easier culling. For the sake of ease in writing, I will refer to all oyster harvesters as oystermen. 39 McClain, The Encyclopedia, 210. 20


smaller and narrower version of the Crassostrea virginica oyster.40 Precise oyster species identification can be challenging; some suggest the coon oyster belongs to the species Crassostrea rhizophorae commonly referred to as the Mangrove or Caribbean oyster.41 These smaller oysters grow in cl usters attached to mangrove roots and tolerate tidal flows that leave the oysters exposed to air for hours at a time. In Florida coon oysters are easy to harvest because they are closer to shorewithin wading distance and often exposed at low tideand ther efore within reach of raccoons as well as humans. On Floridas east coast, the gr eat quantity of readily available coon oysters compelled Frederick J. Townsend, a British ne wcomer to the region in 1875, to write after an uncomfortable ni ght of thunderstorms, mo squitoes, and sand flies: At last the welcome daylight a rrived, and it was with no little astonishment that we found ourselves su rrounded by a forest every tree of which was covered, root and branch, with thick cl usters of oysters. Rising to a height of forty or fifty feet above the water and mud, a dense growth of mangroves clothed the shore and studded the lagoon with forest islets. The lower branches, stems, and spider-like limbs of every mangrove tree, within reach of high-tide, were completely crusted with a compact mass of oysters, of a species known in Florida as coon oysters. We gathered a branch and ate some, but found the flavor bitter; the raccoons, however, are very fond of these tree-oysters, and devour them greedily, whence they get the name of coon oysters. Not only did these oysters cover the trees, but on every mud-bank as well as on the shores they lay in heaps three or four feet in depth.42 Today, anthropogenic forces impact the e nvironment and the resulting availability of edible oysters along Florida s coast. Natural and synthe tic water-borne contaminants threaten oyster beds. Indeed, oysters are an environmental indicator species for the quality of local waters affected by polluti on. Thriving oyster beds signal clean water and 40 V.G. Burrell, Jr. 1986. Species Profiles: Life Histories and Environmental Requirements of Coastal Fishes and Invertebrates (South Atlantic)American Oyster. U.S. Fish Wildlife Service Biol. Rep 82(11.57). U.S. Army Corps of Engineers TR EL-82-4, 1. 41 McClain, The Encyclopedia of Fish Cookery 210 42 Frederick J. Townsend, Wildlife in Florida (London: Hurst and Blackett, 1875), n/p. 21


abundant opportunities for harv esting, whereas dying oyster be ds indicate the opposite. Of course, monitoring of water quality occurs regularly at the local, state, and federal government levels, and I will discuss this mo re in the section on public health and government regulation. Weather might be the most consistent influence not only on oyster productivity but also on the ability to harvest. While freshetssudden influxes of fresh water due to heavy rainfallare vital to oys ter development, excessive le vels of inland fresh-water flushing into bays causes damage to, and reduc es productivity of, developing oyster beds. Incoming river flows bring nutrients, but they can also bring harmful pollutants like fecal coliform bacteria, fertilizers, and petroleum products. If too much rain flushes too much fresh river water into oyster bars, this reduces the waters salinity, jeopardizing the optimum salinity balance for oysters, which is between 20 to 30 parts salt per thousand parts water (ppt). Too little rain reduces freshwater runoff and increases the salinity of oyster dependent waters, potentially raising acidity too high for oyster viability. While the average salinity of seawater is about 33 ppt, salinity levels below 10 ppt and above 30 ppt stunt oyster development. Additionall y, increased salinity creates a welcoming environment for predatory oyster drills. Drill s feed on and kill oysters by boring into its shell and consuming the flesh. The current interstate dispute am ong Florida, Georgia, and Alabama over the manipula tion of water flows via dams along the Apalachicola, Flint, and Chattahoochee Rivers (ACF) is one example of how important fresh water flow is to the successful prod uction of the Apalachicola Bay oyster harvest. Despite their mostly submerged settings Floridas Gulf oyster reefs are not immune from the fury of tropical storms. Hurricanes, in particular, increase the potential 22


for toxin-laden storm runoff. Storm surge b ackwash may deposit ruins of boats, piers, and buildings atop oyster beds, or bring layers of silt, which smothers them. Oyster beds may take years to recover from destructive hurricane-force winds and storm surges, during which time oystermen and their econom ic partnersbrokering seafood dealers, fish houses, and restaurateurssuffer. For example, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, in 2003 st atewide oyster harv ests were 1,791,283 pounds, 20% lower than the average harvest from 1998-2002, and 25% lower than the historical average landings from 1982-2003. Averaging 5.0 million pounds from 1982 to 1985, Floridas Gulf landings declined by 50% af ter 1985s Hurricane El ena destroyed oyster beds. The same beds were later exposed to a prolonged period of drought, from 1987 to 1989, and the Gulf oyster harvest reached a low of 1.4 million pounds in 1996, recovering to 2.6 million pounds in 2001, then decreasing to 1.8 million pounds in 2003 (See Figure 5).43 More recently, in 2005, Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc with oyster beds throughout the Gulf. The effects were felt throughout the industry, from harvest to table. According to the St. Petersburg Times, Dave Mastry at Mastrys seafood in St. Petersburg is no longer offering oysters. Oyster prices were already high before Katrina, he said. Besides people are reluctant to eat them and theres a lot of uncertainty about whats coming out of Louisi ana [concern about the safe consumption of oysters harvested from storm-plagued waters].44 Surprisingly, according to Dave Ankeney of Bar Harbor Seafood in Orlando, price influences purchasing more so than media stories of oyster-caused illness, despite 43 Florida Fish and Wildlife Institute website, Eastern Oyster, ures/viewarticle.asp?id=4825 44 Waveney Ann Moore, Storm Scatters Oy ster Supply: Hurricane Katrina Aftermath, St. Petersburg Times, 17 September 2005, B1. 23


the fact that eating contaminated oysters is a major cause food-borne disease in the U.S.45 According to Ankeney, prime oysterss ingle as opposed to those clustered by attached shellscost more, but some ex acting chefs demand them; and, the least expensive oysters travel shorter distances fr om harvest to table. For example, for consumers in the Tampa Bay area, Apalach icola oysters are usually a good bargain, according to Ankeney, although he confirmed that most of the areas high-end restaurants and bars will offer at least one northern oyster, occasionally even the supreme Malpecques from Prince Edward Island in Canada Former restaurateur Robert Richards confirms that the Apalachicola oyster was the most popular at his restaurant. Over time, environmental changes affect the viability of healthy oyster beds. Salinity and water quality especially affect oyster bed growth. For example, there is evidence that the Tampa Bay area once had th riving commercial oyster beds. In an article that A. Smeltz wrot e for the 1898 Bulletin of the Un ited States Fish Commission, he wrote of his investigation of the greater Tampa Bay area: thence I continued southward to th e Alafia River, Big and Little Manatee, Sarasota, Boca Grande oyster bars and 100 miles farther south, and on every hand I found the same conditions oysters, oysters everywhere. How little did I then think that in less than twenty-five years every one of these bars would be partially or totally depleted. 46 Indeed, Tampa Bay has had its oystering successes. In 1928, P. D. Howe operated an oyster farm at the north end of Old Tampa Bay and offered oyster roasts at his place. The St. Petersburg Times reported that Howe persona lly delivered a quart of 45Personal interview with the late Dave Ankeney, fo rmer Wholesale Seafood Representative, Bar Harbor Seafood, Orlando, Florida, January 2006; CNN News Online, CSPI: Seafood, Eg gs Biggest Causes of Food Poisoning in the US, 7 August 2000, accessed at 46 A. Smeltz, The Oyster-Bars of the West Coast of Fl orida: Their Depletion and Restoration, in the 1898 Bulletin of the United States Fish Commission Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 305; 24


his oysters to the newspaper for sampling. Th e oysters were so plump that as few as twenty filled a quart. The newspaper described them as the best and fattest ever seen in this section. 47 Howe attributed his success in harves ting large, fat oyste rs to spring-fed water mixing with the estuarine Bay waters pr oducing an ideal grow ing situation in an easy to harvest environmentone he thought ot hers should consider too, as he planned to lease another five or six acres to exte nd his venture. Yet, increased pollution and development and, over a longer period of time, other changes such as rising sea levels, eroded the oyster population in west central Florida.48 Robert Richards recalled how the quality of Tampa Bay oysters le ssened over time as they exhi bited leaner meat and higher water content, making them uncompetitive with the readily-obtainabl e and more flavorful Figure 7 Road fill shell pit. Courtesy Florida Memory Collection 47 Oyster farmer extols profit potential, St. Petersburg Times 3 February 1928. 48 Telephone conversation with Bill Arnold, PhD, Resear ch Scientist, Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, St. Petersburg, November 2007. 25


Apalachicola oysters.49 The declining quality of oysters is consistent with Tampa Bays water quality problems during th e later half of the twenti eth century.Throughout Florida physical evidence abounds of the oysters cultur al impact. Over several millennia prior to the arrival of the Spanish explorers in 1513, coastal dwelling Indians discarded shells in huge piles called middens. Even in 1880, one midden at Safety Harbor in Pinellas County measured 146 feet by 162 feet and 20 feet high.50 Today, several shell middens still punctuate Floridas coas tal areas, although most have been disturbed by ruthless treasurer hunters and pragmatic construction wo rkers. For more than the last century, many of these shell mounds provided easily extractable road fill, much to the dismay of modern archaeologists studying Native Amer ican material culture. Unfortunately, random and careless scavenging of the layers of shell and other debris that has accumulated over time disturbs the distributi on and condition of the artifacts. To the local populace, however, use of this ancient shell debris signaled development; oxenhauled carts loaded with oyste r shell were a welcome sight. The caption of one nineteenth century photograph of Bradenton reads: One of the biggest events in the life of the young community was the paving of Main Street with oyster shell. It had been a dirt road for years, but now, in 1893-94, it became a hard road, and progress could not be stopped anymore.51 Crowds gathered to watch the laying of the shell with great excitement and anticipation. 49 Richards interview. 50 Mac Perry, Sacred Lands Preser vation and Education, accessed at 51 Arthur C. Schofield, Yesterdays Bradenton (Miami: E.A. Seeman Publishing, Inc., 1975), 21. 26


Figure 8 Steam roller, packing shells fo r Apalachicola roadbed in 1910. Courtesy of the F lorida Memory Collection. Above-ground mounds of oyster shell were not the exclusive source of construction-bound shells. Entire businesses grew to specialize in the collection of ancient oyster shell by dredging it from underw ater. One such company was R.C. Huffman Construction in St. Petersburg during the mid 1950s and 1960s. Huffmans company dredged for shells and deposited them in huge piles adjacent to Bayboro Harbor. Huffman would then sell and distribut e the shells, mainly to road builders and contractors.52 Layers of silt and mud camouflag e old underwater oyster beds making them difficult to locate, but the payoff fo r oyster-shell dredging was lucrative because prehistoric shells actually provi de the best shell product for ro ad construction. The shells of live oysters are rock-hard and unforgiving, but old shell crushes and packs easily, and provides a robust foundation for roads and driv eways that may consequently be overlaid with non-permeable road surfaces such as as phalt. Many people in the South have long 52 William Smith, About that Shell Hill, St. Petersburg Times, 23 January 1966, magazine, 12. 27


preferred the aesthetic look of a crushed shell drivewa yone that is attractive, quiet, easily maintained, and environmentally friendly. To that end, the City of St. Petersburg used 29,670 tons of shell in road works as recently as 1966.53 Nor is the use of crushed oyster shell limited to road fill. Historically, oyster shell mixed in equal parts with lime, sand, and water produced tabby, a cheap, but labor intensive building material popula r in South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, particularly before the American Revolution (see Figure 9).54 The introduction of Portland Cement mixed with shells launched a Tabby Reviva l period that lasted from the 1880s until 1925.55 The observant wayfarer will find exam ples of tabby in some of the Tampa Bay areas older neighborhoods. Ol der Florida neighborhoods, par ticularly Italian immigrant communities, reveal another use of prehistori c oyster shellcourts of the popular Italian ball game, bocce. Bocce courts are best la id on a foundation of compacted, crushed shell followed by a surface dusted with oyster shell flour that, once compacted, produces a hard-wearing finished surface.56 Unfortunately for modern archaeologists, the popularity of oyster shell for its many uses added to the destruction of shell middens. 53 Ibid. 54 Dennis Adams, Tabby, The Concrete of the Lowcountry. The Beaufort, South Carolina, Public Library website, 55 Laura Sickels-Taves, The Care and Preservation of Tabby. The Henry Ford Museum website, and Tabby, in The New Georgia Encyclopedia, Georgia Humanities Council website, accessed at 56 An example of a common bocce court co nstruction procedure is available at http://www.boccebrew. com/Boccepro5.htm 28


Figure 9 A period example of tabby construction, Gamble Plantation in Manatee County, c. 1902. Courtesy of Florida Memory Collection. In the twentieth century, plastic buttons eliminated the production and use of popular mother-of-pearl buttons, extracted from inside oyster and mussel shells. Pearls remain a favorite fashion jewelry accessory, but the most celebrated of those actually come from mussels, not oysters. Today, we fi nd oyster shell on the reta il shelf in various forms. Natural or health food stores st ock calcium supplements containing crushed oyster shell. Farm feed a nd supply stores offer crushed oyster shell by the pound as a soil amendment (lime) and as an additional sour ce of nutritional grit for poultry. Pet supply stores stock boxes of crushed oyster shell for customers seeking nutrients for caged birds and pH balance for koi ponds. Even the lo cal garden center offers crushed and broken oyster shell as a soil additive for improved drainage or pH balance. The multiple and flexible uses of an oyster harvest, from consumption to construction, as an environmentally friendly flood barrier in the form of an oyster reef, 29


and as water-quality indicator provide just ification for sustaini ng oyster research and traditional oystering practicesplanting and harvestingin all coastal areas of Florida. 30


Chapter Two Public Health and Marketing Challenges Culture begins when the raw gets cooked. Felipe Fernandez-Armesto How is it that in this age of advanced medicine, modern public health regulation, and heightened hygiene awareness, people ge t sick, sometimes fatally, from eating raw oysters? Theres more to consider before enthusiastically downing a tray of freshly shucked oysters on the half-shell than whet her you are eating them in a month that contains an r. Raw and inadequately cooked oysters harbor potential for illness that might be as mild as a stomach upset or as severe as deadly blood poisoning. As filter feeders, oysters concentrate what they inge st and in addition to water-borne nutrients, they can take on Escherichia coli (E-coli) bacteria from sewage-infested water, Vibrio bacteria from the same bacteria family as cholera, or heavy metals and other industrial pollutants. In 1993, one Florida newspaper headline rea d, Eight people have died in Florida this year from eating contaminated raw oysters.57 Indeed, Florida experienced the largest outbreak of oyster-associ ated gastroenteritis ever re ported in January 1995, when 228 people fell ill after consuming oysters, raw and cooked, traced back to an Apalachicola Bay harvest.58 Late in 2004, headlines wa rned, Raw oysters are risky, State says.59 More recently, a headline in the Florida Times-Union declared Area 57 S. Purks, Shucks! Even death cant deter raw oyster lovers Tampa Tribune 1 January 1993. 58S. McDonnell, et al. Failure of cooking to pr event shellfish-associated viral gastroenteritis, Archives of Internal Medicine 157 (1), (1997 Jan. 13): 111-116. 59 S. Colavehio-Van Sicker, Raw oysters are risky, State says, St. Petersburg Times 19 November 2004 South Pinellas Edition, B1. 31


oysters contain fire retardant.60 The last few years have gi ven rise to concerns about shellfish-borne Vibrio bacteria, and related illness a nd deaths that make headlines.61 Shellfish brokers and retailers cringe at such reports because the consuming public thinks twice before choosing to swallow the tasty bivalve. Not surprisingly, strengthening a declining market for oyster product s remains a significant challenge.62 In this chapter, I consid er the culture of suspici on and popular myth surrounding oyster consumption and present data on the numbers of people who actually became ill from consuming raw or undercooked oysters. I ex amine shellfish regulation as it pertains to oysters, specifically public health controls surrounding oysters and shellfish from harvest to wholesale distributi on to retail sale, as well as the consequences of eating contaminated oysters. Finally, I will look at th e strategies the shellf ish industry uses to market a product with su ch a risky reputation. People generally love or lo athe raw oysters. The sli my texture revolts some while the tang of its salty liquor and fleshy texture elates others. Highly nutritious, oysters are rich in copper, iodine, calcium, and especially iron. Moreover, one cup of oyster meat contains as few as 160 calories.63 Oysters provide an abundance of nutrients to the human diet. Low in fat and cholestero l, oysters have a high protein content that makes them a healthy substitute for meat. Oy sters are a rich source of iron, zinc, omega60 Steve Patterson, Area oyster s contain fire retardant, Florida Times Union, 19 May 2009. 61 Vibrio is a potentially deadly bacteria in the same family as cholera. Jane E. Brody, The Culprits, When Good Food Goes Bad, New York Times, 6 February 2001, F.8; Greg Winter, Gulf Coast Oyster Farmers Try Self-Regulation, New York Times, 27 May 2001, Section 3, 5; Letitia Stein, Do you know what youre diving into? St. Petersburg Times, 11 May 2009, B1. 62 W. Arnold and M. Berrigan. A Summary of the Oyster (Crassostrea virginica) Fishery in Florida: A Report to the Division of Marine Fisheries, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission January 2002. Accessed at 63 Ibid. 32


3, vitamin B, copper, manganese, calcium, and phosphorus, as well as 200 times more iodine than an equiva lent amount of beef.64 Yet despite its nutritive value, uncertain ty about eating oysters, especially raw oysters, is common. People with low immune ef ficiency are most susceptible to bacteria called Vibrio vulnificus and Vibrio parahaemolyticus, sometimes found in oysters. Both are halophilic organismsthey can live in saltwaterand they thrive in warm, brackish seawater, and both occur naturally in coastal wa ters of the United States and Canada. If present, these bacteria occas ionally trigger infections through open wounds exposed to seawater .65 FL AL MS LA TX Totals 2007 54 9 8 28 60 159 2006 70 0 9 31 54 164 2005 98 2 23 44 52 219 2004 11 5 0 37 76 129 2003 91 9 2 28 48 178 2002 78 12 5 34 46 175 2001 55 14 4 35 24 132 2000 57 7 9 18 34 125 1999 80 14 3 25 42 164 19971998* 171 19 8 99 92 389 Totals 765 91 71 379 528 1,834 *Note: 1997 and 1998 data were not separated in the source report. Figure 10 Numbers of Reported Gulf Coast Vibrio infections Source: Annual Summaries, Cholera and other Vibrio Illness Surveillance System. National Surveillance Team-Enteric Diseases Epidemiology Branch, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, available at 64 Florida Seafood, Florida Department of Ag riculture and Consumer Services, accessed at ; W. Nowak, The Marketing of Shellfish (London: Fishing News [Books] Ltd., 1970), 156. 65 Vibrio parahaemolyticus and Vibrio vulnificus, Centers for Disease Co ntrol and Prevention, Division of Foodborne, Bacterial and Mycotic Diseases. Accessed at and respectively. 33


Vibrio parahaemolyticus causes gastrointestinal illness in humans, most commonly through consumption of raw or undercooked shellfish, especially oysters. Medically, the infec tion is self-limiting, i.e., symptoms of diarrhea and cramping, nausea, vomiting, fever and chills la st no longer than three days and do not require aggressive medical treatment.66 Many cases go unreported because infected people often do not seek medical care. More people become ill from V. parahaemolyticus, than from Vibrio vulnificus, but deaths are rare. However, while fewer people contract V. vulnificus, more of them will die from that infection or live with serious consequences of blood poi soning such as limb amputation.67 Figure 10 shows the number of reported Vibrio occurrences in Gulf Coast states during the 11-year period between 1997 and 2007. The data in Figure 10 reveals that Florid a has experienced a significantly higher number of reported cases of Vibrio disease. One might surmise the Figure 11. Vibrio vulnificus infection must be treated with massive doses of antibiotics. In some cases amputation is the only means to prevent the spread of the infection. 66 Vibrio parahaemolyticus . Center for Disease Control and Preven tion, Division of Foodborne, Bacterial and Mycotic Diseases, accessed at 67 As summarized in each of the CDCs Vibrio surveillance reports from 1997-98 through 2007. Accessed at diseaselisting/vibriovgi.html 34


reasons for this are: 1) consumption of raw oysters by Floridas large population of senior citizens who because of their adva nced age and potentially weaker immune systems become ill; 2) better diagnosis and reporting of the disease to the state s department of public health; 3) the many visitors to the state who may not have been exposed to, or believed, the numerous heal th warnings and safe oyster consumption education posted in places of purchase or consumption. Healthy people who ingest Vibrio vulnificus, most often after eating raw or undercooked oysters, experience much the same gastrointestinal symptoms as those exposed to V. parahaemolyticus.68 Unfortunately, people with compromised immune systems, in particular those with chronic live r disease, will likely face an infection in the bloodstream, or what the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) describes as a severe and life-threatening illness charac terized by fever and ch ills, decreased blood pressure (septic shock), and blistering skin lesionsfatal about 50% of the time69 Invasion of V. vulnificus through open wounds exposed to dir ect contact with seawater is most dangerous to immuno-compromised persons, and if not fatal, may lead to limb amputation.70 Figure 11 provides an exam ple of the severity of V. vulnificus infection. Others at high risk are persons suffering from hemochromatosis,71 alcoholism, HIV/AIDS, and cancer. Even people who ha ve had gastric surgery, or take antacid medicine to reduce stomach acid levels s hould avoid raw or underc ooked shellfish. The International Sanitation Shellfish Conferen ce (ISSC) reports that the typical U.S. 68 Ibid. After oysters, shrimp is the next most likely food to cause Vibrio illness in humans. 69 Vibrio vulnificus. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Division of Foodborne, Bacterial and Mycotic Diseases, accessed at 70 Ibid. 71 Defined by the Encarta Dictionary as a genetic disorder wherein the human body stores an excess of iron that leads to organ damage, particularly the liver and the pancreas. 35


shellfish-consumption V. vulnificus case profile is a middle-aged, white man who is a heavy drinker and either is unaware of or i gnores dietary risks. He consumes three to twelve raw oysters and develops septicemia.72 When it comes to consumption of raw or undercooked oysters or clams, no physical appearance or taste indicator alerts the unlucky consumer to the presence of V. vulnificus. According to the Journal of the Flori da Medical Association of the cases reported from 1981 to 1992, 72 cases of Vibrio vulnificus infection from raw oysters were reported; 36 patients (50%) died, making th is infection the leadi ng cause of reported deaths from food-borne illness in Florida.73 Between January 1996 and May 2009, 346 cases of Vibrio vulnificus were reported to the Flor ida Department of Health.74 Until 2007, infections caused by Vibrio species were not required to be reported to the CDC by the states departments of pub lic health; however, si nce 1988 the Gulf of Mexico states have voluntarily collaborated with the CDC to provide data. It is in those states where most Vibrio cases occur, especially during the months of May through September, with infections peaking during J une, July, and August, the months with the warmest water temperature. Health officials advise people at high ri sk, particularly those with cancer, HIV, hepatitis, diabetes, and ev en heavy drinkers, not to eat raw oysters. 72M. Tamplin, R. Hammond, P. Gulig, and R. Baker, Vibrio vulnificus a Hidden Risk in Raw Oysters (2001, video). A clinician's guide to V. vulnificus infection and treatment. Quote accessed at 73 Hlady, W.G., R.C. Mullen, and R.S. Hopkins, Vibrio vulnificus from raw oysters: Leading cause of reported deaths from food borne illness in Florida, Journal of the Florida Medical Association (Aug. 1993) 80(8): 536-8. 74 Florida Department of Health Communicable Dis ease Frequency Report by Year. Accessed online at 36


Many, though not all, public health expert s claim thorough cooking will kill the bacteria resulting in safe consumption.75 Bear in mind that most raw oysters, excl uding those that are post-harvest treated, are sold as live animals. The tag affixed to each bag of harvested oysters indicates who harvested them, the date of harvest, and the pl ace of harvest. That tag remains with those oysters throughout the entir e distribution process, and ninety days beyond retail sale in order to backtrack in the event of post-cons umption illness. That seems a reasonable time period because illness symptoms usually a ppear from 12 hours to several days after infection. This period allows time for any sporad ic reporting to be investigated by public health departments. The optimum temperatur e range for safe storage of live oysters is between 34 and 45F.76 Stored at that temperature, Gulf oysters are safe for consumption for up to fourteen days, northern oysters for twenty-one days.77 Buyers have the option to request oysters that have been pasteurized or pre-treated for the Vibrio bacteria, but they are not available at all outlets. Th ese post-harvest processed (PHP) oysters are treated in the shell to ensure safety and retain flavor. Human ingestion of contaminated oysters can trigger other un pleasant ailments. Today, oyster-borne viral pathogens such as Hepatitis A, which damages the liver, and Norwalk virus ( calicivirus ), which causes gastroenteritis associated with Vibrio parahaemolyticus infection from Gulf coast oyste rs, are reported by the medical community on a regular basis giving credence to the need for public safety parameters.78 75 Shannon Colavecchio-VanSickler, Raw Oysters are Risky, State Says. St. Petersburg Times, November 19, 2004, B1. 76 Interstate Shellfish Sanitation Conference (ISSC), How Should Oysters Be Stored and Handled? Accessed at 77 Ankeney interview. 78 See, for example, the article, Epidemiologic Notes and Reports Foodborne Hepatitis AAlaska, Florida, North Carolina, Washington, in the CDCs Morbidity and Mortality report, MMWR Weekly, (13 37


In the Gulf of Mexico, Hepatitis A-contamin ated oysters usually originate from oyster beds polluted by untreated sewage from offshor e oil-drilling platforms or fishing boats. However, in 1988, Hepatitis A infected 61 people who ate oysters harvested from unapproved oyster beds near sewage treatment plants.79 Norwalk virus, first identif ied in 1972, passes from one human to the next via stool contamination producing mild to severe gastrointestinal symptoms.80 Like Hepatitis A, typhoid and choler a, Norwalk virus contamina tion of oysters most often occurs from raw sewage dumped overboard by recreational or commercial boaters. In January 1995, 322 cases of Norwalk virus in fectionassociated acute gastroenteritis resulted from the consumption of raw oysters in Florida. In 2003, six people in Texas contracted typhoid fever as a result of eating oysters from the same oyster bed.81 On top of all this, red tide triggers even more health complications associated with oyster consumption. Ingestion of red tide al gae by oysters renders them potentially toxic to humans because filter feeding concentr ates the red tide toxin in oyster meat.82 The Florida Department of Health warns that oysters should not be eaten if harvested from red April 1990), 39(14): 228-232. The repor t refers to an August 1988 outbreak of hepatitis A in 61 persons: Alabama (23), Florida (18), Georgia (18), Hawaii (1), Tennessee (1) all perpetuated by consumption of oysters harvested from Bay County, Florida, waters. Its interesting to note that 80% of those infected were male, and 97% (59) of the total number of infected persons ate raw oysters, although one did consume baked oysters and the median incubation period betw een consumption of raw oysters and onset of illness was 29 days with a range of 16-48 days. 79 A.E. Fiore, Hepatitis A Transmitted by Food Food Safety: Clinical Infectious Diseases (March 2004) (38): 705. 80M. Kohn, T. Farley, T. Ando, et al. An outbreak of Norwalk virus gastroenteritis associated with eating raw oysters: implications for maintaining safe oyster beds. Journal of the American Medical Association (1995), (273): 466-71. 81 S. McDonnell, K.B. Kirkland, W.G. Hlady, et al., Failure of cooking to pr event shellfish-associated viral gastroenteritis, Archives of Internal Medicine, (1997), (157)1: 111-6. 82 According to the Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota Florida, Florida red tide is the generic term for a bloom of a microscopic alga (a plant-like organism) called Karenia brevis . First identified in Florida in the 1840s, its exact cause is still being scientifically investigated but nitrogen-rich pollution seems to aggravate it. Red tide blooms may cause closure of some oyster harvest areas because red tide toxin retained in the oyster may cause illness in consumers. Accessed at efno=438category=Florida%20red%20tide 38


tide-affected waters.83 Symptoms from consuming red-tide contaminated shellfish may begin within a few hours of consumpti on and include tingling and numbness of tongue, lips, throat; muscular ach es; gastrointestinal distress; and dizz iness, depending on the amount of toxin ingested and the overall health of the victim. Such symptoms typically do not last more than a couple of da ys but the toxin may be fatal to people with severe respiratory conditions.84 On the Florida coast, high concentrations of red-tide algae in waters containing shellfish prompt the state government to prohibit harvesting in that area. Floridas Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services closed the Apalachicola Bay oyster beds from Septembe r to late November 2005 due to extremely high levels of red tide.85 The oysters harvested from a closed area present a significant threat to public health,86 observed Capt. Martin Redmond, [Florida] Fish and Wildlife Commission investigations supervisor for the North Central Region, when interviewed about the November 2005 arrest of three pe ople in Dixie County for selling oysters collected from a closed area. Capt. Redm ond emphasized the need to prevent unlicensed harvest and sale of shellfish pr oducts, an illegal practice that can result in charges ranging from a misdemeanor to a felony. In this case, the perpetrators were charged with: harvest of oysters from a closed area; commercial harvest/sale of oysters with no Saltwater Products License; commercial harvest from a vessel not constructe d to protect products from bilge/contaminants; shellfish harvest vessel not equipped with sewage disposal 83 Florida Department of Health, Bureau of Community Health/Aquatic Toxins, ent/community/aquatic/redtidehtm. 84Ibid. Red Tide, Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, accessed at upport/viewfaqs.asp?id=13 85 David Heil, Bronson Announces Re-opening of Shellfish Areas, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Press Release, 23 November 2005. 86 K. Parker, FWC takes on illegal oyster harves ters, Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission Press Release, 6 December 2005. 39


receptacle. Collectively, these charges indi cate the seriousness of jeopardizing not only public health, but also the economic viability of one of Floridas iconic food industries. In 1995, the Epidemic Intelligence Servic e of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducted an investiga tion of the larges t outbreak of oysterassociated gastroenteritis ever reported, which occurred in th e Florida panhandle in January of that year. They tested stool specimens and serum samples for antibodies to Norwalk virus from 223 oyster eaters, 129 of whom became ill. Investigators found that 67 percent of those people who ate grilled, stewed, or fried oysters became as ill as those who ate raw oysters, even though water quality tests for fecal coliform were within acceptable limits .87 Ultimately, investigators attributed the outbreak to feces dumped overboard from boats during an outbreak of diarrheal illness am ong Apalachicola Bay communities. The CDCs findings of accep table water quality measures for fecal contamination and the lack of appreciabl e protective effect from cooking leave the consumer with no assurance of safety [emphasis mine],88 so it could be suggested that Irish writer Jonathan Swifts maxim that He was a bold man that first ate an oyster holds true today. In addition to grandmothers admonition to avoid consumer oysters in a month not containing an r consumption of raw oysters draw s other axioms. One invokes the belief that drinking alcohol as one eats raw oysters renders them safe to eat. Another is that dousing raw oysters in hot sauce prevents illness. Neither of these alle ged preventive measures works. The preferred principle is th at illness prevention lies in educating people about the risks of consuming raw or undercooked shellfish. Numerous public education 87 S. McDonnell, K. Kirkland, W. Hlady, et al., Ibid. 88 Ibid. 40


and information efforts are made from website s hosted by the Center for Disease Control, the Florida Department of Health, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and Time and again, food safety officials say fully cooked oysters may be safely consumed, even by high-risk persons. Florida state law requires any establishment selling fresh or cooked seafood to post a notice warning that the consumption of raw or cooked seafood may pose a health threat to consumers. Restaurant menus contain this warning, and retail seafood counters are required to post the warning in direct sight of purchasers. The regulation of shellfish harvesting in the United States began in the late seventeenth century when the Dutch col ony of New Amsterdam enacted conservation legislation.89 However, public health concerns did not become a national priority until the late nineteenth century after the advent of Louis Pasteurs germ th eory. At that time, large outbreaks of severe illness attributed to the consumption of raw oysters, clams, and mussels occurred throughout the western world, in particular bacter ia, originating from sewagefecal coliformsthat cont aminate shellfish. In his book, The Big Oyster, Mark Kurlansky discusses how, in the late nineteen th century, Pasteurs germ theory supported the long-suspected connection between oys ters and diseases such as cholera ( Vibrio cholerae ) and typhoid fever ( Salmonella bacillus ): In one decade [the 1890s], the medical view of the world changed. The cu lprits of urban epidemics switched from poverty, immigration, and immorality to bacteria, sewage, and shellfish.90 89 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Administration, Food and Drug Administration. Introduction, National Shellfish Sanitation Program Manual of Operations (NSSP Manual), ISSC, Part 1 and II (Washington, D.C.: Food and Drug Administration, Shellfish Sanitation Branch, 2007), accessed at ; Mark Kurlansky. The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell (New York: Ballantine Books, 2006), 82-85. 90Kurlansky, The Big Oyster, 252-253. 41


Consequently, public health officials placed new emphasis on government inspection and regulation of wa ter quality. Ingestion of sewage-contaminated oysters le d to an intensely virulent epidemic of typhoid fever in 1924 that spanned New York, Washington, D.C., and Chicago. New York alone recorded more than 400 cases.91 In response to public and government pressure to do something to ensure safe seafood consumption, the Surgeon General of the United States and the federal Public H ealth Service convened a conference in Washington, D.C. in 1925 comprising 150 repres entatives of state and municipal health authorities, state conservation commissi ons, the predecessor of the Food and Drug Administrationthe Bureau of Chemistry, the predecessor of the National Marine Fisheries Servicethe Bureau of Commercial Fisheries, and members of the shellfish industry. At the conclusion of the conference, resolutions called for: Identification, inspection a nd control of shellfish beds by some official state agency and the U.S. Public Health Service. Inspection and control of shellfish shucking, preparation, or packaging by some official state agency and the U.S. Public Health Service. State control, in cooperation with trade organizations, of ensuring the source and authenticity of the shellf ish is honestly communicated to the consumer. Supervision, inspection, control, and approval of shipping methods by appropriate federal and state agencies Product conformation to established bact erial standards and federal, state, and local laws relative to salinity, water content, food proportion, and Pure Food Laws.92 The Surgeon General relayed these guidelines to state health authorities later in the year, and he made clear that ultimate responsibility for shellfish industry sanitation control lay 91 New typhoid cases in city decrease, New York Times, 23 December 1924. 92 Ibid.; Move to protect oysters from germs, New York Times, 20 February 1925; House votes $57,600 for oyster inquiry, New York Times, 27 February 1925; Introduction, National Shellfish Sanitation Program Manual of Operations (NSSP Manual), ISSC, Part 1 and II (Washington, D.C.: Food and Drug Administration, Shellfish Sanita tion Branch, 2007), accessed at 42


at the state level, although the Public Health Service would offer both assistance and cooperation. It was agreed that shellfis h-producing states would ensure agreed-upon sanitation standards by issuing certifi cates or permits to operate. The U.S. Public Health Service continued to conduct scientific investigations of fundamental importance and served as a clearinghouse for the interchange of information and the discussion of po licies between state authorities.93 Basically, this cooperative program of sanitary control of the shellfish s upply resulted in dedicated procedural responsibility on the part of three partners: federal government, state government, and industry. Laws and regulations were instituted at the state level for sanitary control of the shellf ish industry, sanitary surveys of growing areas, defining and patrolling restricted areas, in spection of shellfish plants, laboratory investigations, and other control measures necessary for assuring safe handling from harvest to final sale. Federal level responsibility included annual re view of each shellfish-producing states control program, including the inspection of a representative number of shellfish processing plants, Food and Drug Administ ration (FDA) determination of state conformity with the National Shellfish Sanitation Program (NSSP), and for general information purposes, monthly publication of valid interstate shellfish shipper certificates by the Food and Drug Administration. The shellf ish industry agreed to harvest shellfish from safe sources, ensuring ma intenance of agreed-upon standards, appropriate labeling of shellfish packaging, and documentation c onfirming origin and disposition of all shellfish. The NSSP, another outcome of the Surgeon Generals 1925 conference, has maintained its original doctrine over the year s, with periodic revisions under the auspices 93NSSP Manual, ibid. 43


of the FDA. In 1954, cooperating member s convened the first National Shellfish Sanitation Workshop, which further modified the NSSP Manual In 1959, the manual split to accommodate two sections: Part I, Sanitation of Shellfish Growing Areas; and Part II, Sanitation of Harves ting and Processing of Shellfish. In 1965, cooperation on the revision of the manual grew to include shellfi sh control authorities in all coastal states, food control authorities in the inland states, interested federal agencies, Canadian federal departments. and various shellfish growers organizations and associations throughout North America.94 Update of the manual continues to be a cooperative effort between the FDA and the Interstate Shellfish Sanitation Conference (ISSC), an organization born in 1982 to foster and promote shellfish sani tation through the coope ration of state and federal control agencies, the shellfis h industry, and the academic community.95 In 1998, the FDA, again in cooperation with the ISSC, issued a new guide, National Shellfish Sanitation Program Guide for the Control of Molluscan Shellfish , to replace Parts I and II of the existing NSSP Manual of Operation. The new Guide contains language designed for easy adoption into state laws or regulations.96 The recent NSSP Manual ensures not only equal interstate sanitary control of shellfis h, but also recreational and intrastate commercial standards. Interestingly, the FDA uses the NSSP Manual for certifying foreign shellfis h sanitation programs, as well.97 94 Introduction. NSSP Manual Part 1 Shellfish Sanitation Branch, Division of Seafood Programs, Office of Seafood, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, Food and Drug Administration Introduction, Washington, D.C., 1992, xviii. 95The Interstate Shellfish Sanitation Conference consis ts of six representatives from producing state shellfish control agencies, three re presentatives from non-producing st ate shellfish control agencies, six industry representatives, one member each from the U.S. Food and Drug Admi nistration, the National Marine Fisheries Service, and the U.S. Environmen tal Protection Agency, and a non-voting representative from each of three fast forces with I SSC. About Us [the ISSC] accessed at 96 NSSP Guide for Control of Molluscan Shellfish, accessed at 97 NSSP Manual 1992, xix. 44


Within the Florida Department of Agriculture, the Florida Shellfish Commission came into being in 1913, and by 1915 a Shell Fish Commissioner, T.R. Hodges, was assigned to the newly created Florida Department of Game and Fish.98 Over the course of the twentieth century, differe nt state agencies have shared responsibilities for different aspects of shellfish regulation and management, especially since public oyster reefs yield the bulk of the states co mmercial oyster harvest.99 The ever-increasing multiple layers of government regulation fuel frustration among participants from harvest to distribution. Floridas Division of Aquaculture, whic h is part of the states Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (DAC S), the oversees the commercial shellfish industry in the Sunshine State. The DACS is responsible for classifying coastal waters using sanitary, hydrographic, meteorological, and bacteriological surveys. According to the DACS, Sanitary surveys identify waters where contaminants may be present in amounts that present a health hazard; hence, should not be open to harvest. The bacteriological survey iden tifies waters meeting NSSP fecal coliform standards. A comprehensive shellfish harvesting area survey is written for each shellfish harvesting area to document the methods a nd findings of these surveys, as well as proposed changes in classification and management. NSSP guidelines require that these reports be maintained annua lly, reevaluated every three years, and resurveyed every 12 years. Areas that do not comply with sanitary requirements are to be immediately reclassified or closed.100 98 William Warren Rogers, Outposts on the Gulf (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1986), 118. 99 Arnold, A Summary of the Oyster, 6-7. 100 Florida Department of Agriculture and Consum er Services, Bureau of Aquaculture, Shellfish Harvesting. Accessed at http://wwwfloridaaquacultu 45


Figure 12 A buoy identifying a shellfish harv esting area. It offers a reward up to $2,500 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of individuals unlawfully possessing or harv esting cultured shellfish. Photo courtesy of F lorida State Archives. Within the Division of Aquaculture, th e Shellfish Environm ental Assessment Section (SEAS) located in Tall ahassee, with its shellfish laboratory in Apalachicola, has responsibility for classifying and managi ng oyster harvest areas around the state to provide maximum utilization of shellfish resources and to reduce the risk of shellfishborne illness.101 The SEAS monitors 1,430,854 acres of shellfish harvesting areas around the state that include 1,200 bacteriological sampling stations.102 Monitoring of fecal coliform levels in Florida waters occurs weekly. It takes 24 hours to produce test results once samples reach the SEAS laboratory in Apalachicola. Florida abides by the bacteriological standards for fecal colifor m established by the NSSP for classifying harvesting areas, as listed in Figure 13. If in doubt, one should consider the waters Unclassified, in which case, taking any product for human consumption is unlawful 101 Ibid. 102 Ibid. 46


because the waters will not have been an alyzed for potential contamination. All the coastal waters in the following Florida count ies remain Unclassified: Jefferson, Taylor, Hernando, Pasco, Monroe, Dade, Broward, Pa lm Beach, Martin, Flagler, and Nassau. Shellfish harvesting areas may be in the open or closed status. In Florida, where shellfish industry sale s contribute millions of dollars to the states economy, the publics sensitivity to safe consumption of raw oysters remains particularly high.103 The oyster consuming public appears to depend on government regulation to ensure food safety, but these regu lations are not perfect. Scientists consider oysters an indicator species because thriving oyster beds signal clean waters, whereas ailing beds may be a sign of pollution and ot her water quality problems. Contaminating forces constantly threaten oyster beds in the form of naturally-occurring water-borne viruses, excessive algae growth, fecal matter, and severe storms. Of course, water quality monitoring takes place at the local, st ate, and federal levels and determines whether the water is clean enough to harves t oysters fit for huma n consumption. But quality control for oyster sales does not end th ere. After harvest, government technicians examine oysters for such bacterial and viral contaminants as Vibrio vulnificus, E-coli and hepatitis A.104 Section 5L-1 of Floridas Administra tive Code contains the Comprehensive Shellfish Control Code. Florida oysters may be legally harvested from open areas when 103 Florida Agricultural Facts, 2003. Available at http://wwwnass.usda .gov/fl/rtoc0ahtm 104 During a visit to the shellfish laboratory of the Shellfish Environmental Asse ssment Section (SEAS) of the Florida Bureau of Aquacu lture in Apalachicola on 14 August 2009, the author witnessed the dozens of glass vials the laboratory receives and tests, including several the laboratory director pointed out to me as being positive or contaminated. The water in those vials turned cloudy or murky as a result of the tests, which take about 24 hours before results are available. In another section of the lab, the meat of oysters chosen from random harvests are ground in blenders and cultured for Vibrio bacteria. Because the SEAS holds responsibility for classifying and managing Florida s shellfish harvest areas, test results that indicate contamination may trigger implementation of safety cont rols such as temporarily closing certain areas to harvest. 47


shells reach three inches in size. The locati on of open areas is readily available from the maps at the Florida Shellfish Harv esting Area website (See Appendix A).105 Mapped areas are assigned an identific ation number and description. The greater Apalachicola Bay oyster harvest area consists of ap proximately 6000 acres, 5400 of which may be harvested by licensed oystermen and 600 of wh ich are privately leased by the state for exclusive use by the lessee. Apalachicola Bay has seasonal harvest areas. Certain identified areas may be conditionally approve d during the summer, but may be restricted in the winter, or vice versa. Appendix A pr ovides an example of an area classification map on Floridas west coast. To ensure public health and safety, not only must a potential oyster harvester (suc h as the man working in Figure 14), make application to the Division of Aquaculture within the Florid a DACS for commercial harvesting of oysters, but licensure is also required for shellf ish processing by molluscan shippers, shuckerpackers, and re-packers.106 Licensure provides additional co ntrols on safe processing of Florida oysters. There are approximately 100 licen sed shellfish processo rs in the state. Licensed processors can handle both oysters and clams; appr oximately 60 percent of the processors currently handle only clams; a pproximately 25 percent of the processors currently handle only oysters, and these are mostly located in th e panhandle of the State. 105 The website address is 106 According to the Division of Aquaculture, a shell-stock shipper is a person who operates a shell-stock shipping plant as a certified shellfish dealer, who grows, harvests, buys or repacks and sells shell-stock. A shell-stock shipper is not allowed to act as a shucker-packer or repacker. A shell-stock shipper may also ship sealed containers of shucked shellfish. A shucker-packer is a person who operates a shucker-packer plant as a certified shellfish dealer who shucks and packs shellfish and who may act as a shell-stock shipper and/or repacker. A repacker is a person operating a repacking plant as a certified shellfish dealer, other than the original certified shucker-packer, who repacks shucked shellfish into other containers for distribution or sale. A repacker may also repack and ship shell-stoc k. A repacker shall not shuck shellfish. Definitions retrieved from 48


Approved Areas NSSP 14/43 Standard = The fecal coliform median must not exceed 14 MPN(a) /100 ml, AND not more than 10% may exceed 43 MPN/100 ml Normally open to shellfish harvesting; may be temporarily closed under extraordinary circumstances such as red tides, hurricanes and sewage spills. The 14/43 standard must be met for all combinations of defined adverse pollution conditions (tide, rainfall, river, tide/rainfall, tide/river and tide/rainfall/river). Conditionally Approved Areas Periodically closed to shellfish harvesting based on pollution events, such as rainfall or increased river flow. The 14/43 standard must be met when the management plan parameter (rainfall, river stage, and/or river discharge) is less than the adverse pollution condition during all other adverse pollution conditions. Restricted Areas NSSP 88/260 Standard = The fecal coliform median must not exceed 88 MPN/100 ml, and Not more than 10% may exceed 260 MPN/100 ml. Normally open to relaying or controlled purification, allowed only by special permit and supervision; may be temporarily closed under extraordinary circumstances such as red tides, hurricanes and sewage spills. The 88/260 standard must be met for all combinations of defined adverse pollution conditions (tide, rainfall, river, tide/rainfall, tide/river and tide/rainfall/river). Conditionally Restricted Areas Periodically, relay and controlled purification activity is temporarily suspended based on pollution events, such as rainfall or increased river flow. The 88/260 standard must be met when the management plan parameter (rainfall, river stage, and/or river discharge) is less than the adverse pollution condition during all other adverse pollution conditions Prohibited Areas Shellfish harvesting is not permitted due to actual or potential pollution. This classification is least desirable, and is used only when standards are exceeded for Approved, Conditi onally Approved, Restricted and Conditionally Restricted classification management schemes. Unclassified = Unapproved Areas Shellfish harvesting is not permitted pending bacteriological and sanitary surveys. To reopen an area following temporary closure associated with a pollution event, sample results of waters must meet the appropriate NSSP standard (14/43 or 88/260), and adequate time must elapse for shellfish to purify. Public health is protected by allowing shellfish to be harvested only from waters of high quality. Note: The data for this chart was retrieved from the Shellfish Harvesti ng page of the Bureau of Aquaculture, Florida Department of Agricu lture and Consumer Services, accessed at (a) MPN=Most Probable Number. Definition: The MPN is a statistical estimate of the number of bacteria per unit volume and is determined from the number of po sitive results in a series of fermentation tubes. NSSP Definitions, NSSP Man ual, Part 1, p. DEF2. Figure 13. Florida Shellfish Harvesting Areas Classification 49


Approximately 15 percent of the proce ssors currently handle both oysters and clams.107 State law requires harvesters to cull their catch and return to the water oysters below the minimum harvest size limit of three inches (See Figure 14). Each 60-pound bag gets tagged with the date and place of harvest. If a consumer should become ill from eating those oysters, their point of origin and histor y of processing is readily available. To safeguard consumers, very specific regulations in Florida apply to re tail sale of oysters and clams. The Florida Coope rative Extension Service guide, Buying Seafood for Retail, advises consumers that every container of fr esh, shucked oysters or clams must carry a label informing that the contents can be sold within 14 days after the shucking date; after that time, the oysters must be discarded. In fact, most retail firms sell their oysters within Figure 14 Oysterman Cletis Anderson culls his harv est in the waters of Apalachicola, 1986. Courtesy of the Florida Memory Collection. 107 Personal correspondence with David Heil, Assistant Director, Division of Aquaculture, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. 50


5 to 6 days after purchase.108 Such guidelines are meant to instill consumer confidence in the quality of the seafood product. Noneth eless, overcoming media excitement when someone becomes severely ill or even dies as a result of eating raw oysters is an uphill battle for the shellfish industry. While market demand for raw oysters declined nationwide during the 1990s, the Florida market, especially that of Apalachicola, has remained relatively stable.109 Overcoming resistance to the oyster s reputation for conveying illness is an ongoing challenge for the shellf ish industry. Part of the mission of the Gulf Oyster Industry Council, a trade associ ation based in New Orleans that represents Gulf of Mexico oyster growers, distribut ors, and retailers is to ba lance public health protection with legitimate economic consideration.110 Among industry strategies to address consumption safety concerns are means to ensu re that oysters remain free of toxins when they reach the retail market. However, the public education literatu re distributed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) provides a serious warning: You cant tell if an oyster is contaminated by Vibrio vulnificus by looking at it or by smelling it. Nor does the freshness of the oyster mean it is safe from bacteria because it is present in the water where live oysters feed.111 Beyond government regulatory control of oyster harvesting areas, scientists and oyster distributors have collaborated on post-harvest processes (PHP) efforts to ensure pure oysters for the consumer. PHP met hods vary. Depuration, is one methoda 108 W. Otwell, F. Lawlor III, et al, Buying Seafood for Retail Sea Grant Extension Bulletin SGEB-9 (November 1985) (Gainesville: Florida Sea Grant Ex tension Program, University of Florida), 6-7. 109 Arnold, A Summary of the Oyster, 11. 110 Gulf Oyster Industry Council. Mission statement. Accessed at 111 U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Vibrio vulnificus Health Education Kit, The Danger of Eating Contaminated Raw Oysters March 2004. Accessed at ou/HealthEducators/ucm085368.htm 51


process in which harvested, but contaminated, oysters are relayed through vats of fresh water flows, often ionized, over a period of hours or days, during which time oysters flush toxins out of their tissue. Oysters have the ability to concentrate water-borne toxins up to 100 times greater than the surrounding wate r levels, so this depuration process may take as long as three days.112 Therefore, relaying, like almost every part of shellfish processing, is strictly regulated in accordan ce with NSSP standards. While it is mostly effective for eliminating traces of fecal coliform, the process does not work as well with chemical or heavy metal pollutants, nor does it work to flush the Vibrio vulnificus bacterium. Those pollutants tend to concentrate in oyste rs because their physiology renders them unable to purge such toxins.113 Other purification methods include irra diation using Cobalt -60; flash cold treatments such as IQF (individually quick frozen) in which fresh unopened oysters are flash-frozen in liquid nitrogen or in powerf ul blast freezers; and high hydrostatic pressure (HHP). HHP involves putting banded oysters into a high-pressure vessel, then submitting the oysters to two to five minutes of intense air pressure at 35,000 pounds per square inch, impressively more than standard outdoor atmospheric air pressure at sea level which is just 14.7 pounds per square inch. Bands keep the oysters from opening during treatmentan event that jeopard izes their fresh-like texture. The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the USDA agree that effective treatment means reducing Vibrio vulnificus levels to less than 30 organisms per gram of meat.114 112 Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Bureau of Aquaculture. Accessed at http://wwwfloridaaquaculture .com/SEAS/SEASintro.htm 113 NSSP Manual Part 1, Section D. 114One of the best non-industrial descriptions of high h ydrostatic pressure process I found is in this article: Lee Hockstader The Holy Grail of Oysterdom, The Houston Chronicle, 23 September 2003; UF experts help oyster processorsuse new technology to keep cons umers, industry healthy, University of Florida press release, 15 August 2006, at 52


Experimental research with HHP revealed an added benefit for oyster processors/dealers; the pressure causes the only part of the oyster meat attached to the shell (its muscle) to detacha step that is otherw ise only accomplished via the knife of a hand shucker. This benefit adds to the processors bottom line; one does not have to pay to have the oysters shucked after treatment, because once the shell is popped open, the oyster slides out. In addition to monitoring post-harvest treatment regimes, the federal Food and Drug Administration administers a Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) program, a process that has been established for juice, meat, poultry and seafood processing in order to prevent foodborne illness. A critical control point is the point, step, or procedure in a food process at which control can be applied, and a food safety hazard can as a result be prevented, elim inated, or reduced to acceptable levels.115 For example, consideration must be given to food safety hazards that might occur as a result of natural toxins, microbiologi cal contamination, chemical contamination, pesticides, drug residues, parasites, and dire ct or indirect food additives.116 While this bureaucratic oversight benefits public safety, the administrative oversight at the processing level of distribution can be a challenge. From mice to cleaning solutions, every consideration must be given to unintended contamination of an oyster safe for human consumption. In an effort to eliminate contaminants like the Vibrio bacteria, some oyster distributors expose harvested liv e oysters, prior to shucki ng, to warm water carefully calibrated to kill harmful bacteria. Next, distributors plunge the oysters into ice-cold water to shock the bacteria. This is known as the HCP method, Heat/Cool/Process. One 115 According to the USDA HACCP site located at aldisplay/index.php?infocenter=16&taxlevel=1&taxsubject=177 and oryInformation/GuidanceDocuments/Seafood/Fisha ndFisheriesProductsHazardsandC ontrolsGuide/ucm120134.htm 116 Ibid. 53


company, Ameripure Oysters in Louisiana, buys, treats, and markets oysters from all around the Gulf using this proce ss. Its website boasts that Oysters that undergo the AmeriPure Process at our modern, government-inspected plant are completely free of Vibrio vulnificus, and Vibrio parahaemolyticus (severe temperature abuse studies have conclusively shown that these bacteria do not reoccur). After processing, aerobic bacteria were also substantially reduced, thereby slowing the natural rate of spoilage.117 The oyster does not survive treatment, but Ameripure assures consumers that because the oysters shell never opens, and therefore retains all its natural juices and texture, its culinary quality is as good as a live raw oyster. Ameripure also claims a 21-day shelf life for its packaged shucked oysters due to the HCP treatment, with no detrimental effects on the flavor and texture of the product. Another complex, but less expensive, met hod used to ensure safe consumption of raw oysters is IQF, individual quick freezing, a process used by a couple of seafood processors in Apalachicola. Culled to indi vidual shell-stock, oyste rs are quickly deep frozen in layers that are easy to package and ship in their deep frozen state. Once thawed, IQF distributors claim the opened and shucked dead oysters can be served like, and taste as good as, a freshly shucked, just-harvested oysters. In 2005 the FDA approved irradiation, exposure to a radioactive source, such as Cobalt-60, to a degree that does not kill the oyster. In June 2009, Fl oridas Division of A quaculture licensed Food Technology Services Inc. (FTSI), in Mulberr y, Florida, to use irradiation on oysters. According to the Divisions press release, FTSI is the first company in the nation certified to use this process to pr oduce safer oysters by eliminating the Vibrio vulnificus 117 Ameripure Oysters. Accessed at 54


bacteria to undetectable levels.118 In focused studies of this process, consumers could detect no difference between the taste and texture of irradiated oysters and untreated oysters.119 In a recent survey conducted by resear chers at Mississippi State University, scientists explored reason s for consumption and non-consumption of raw oysters. Individuals who typically do not purchase raw shellfish (non-consumers) responded that taste, texture, and smell were their top reas ons for avoiding oysters. On the other hand, consumers who do buy oysters responded that price, safe ty concerns, and unavailability of a fresh product were th eir top three reasons for not eating raw oysters. In the same study consumers of oysters were queried as to preferred methods of decontamination (the descriptions were provided in lay terms): 61 percent chos e depuration, or clean-water filtering, compared with only 9 percent choos ing irradiation. The study also revealed a marked ignorance, even amongst regular raw oyster consumers, of government controls and relative product safety. For example, 57 percent of those consumers who indicated concern with product safety said they might be inclined to consume oysters if there were increased government regulation.120 According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the two greatest threats to the market for raw oysters are environmental de gradation and concern 118 David Heil. Department Licenses Mulberry Food I rradiation Facility for Oyst er Processing. Press release, 12 June 2009. Division of Aquaculture, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. 119 I repeatedly found the conclusion that post-harvest treatments for sanitary consumption of oysters did not produce enough of a change in taste or texture to negatively influence the consumers desire to eat them, even raw. See, for example, Commercial Oy ster Postharvest Processing Systems. Accessed at ; L. Andrews, B. Posadas, and M. Jahncke, Oyster irradiation: Pathogenic vibrio res ponse and consumer difference testing. October 2002. Accessed at ; Wright, et al. Evaluation of Postharvest-Processed Oysters, ibid; O. Ashton Morgan, Gregory S. Martin, and William L. Huth. Oyster demand adjustments to counterinformation and source treatments in response to Vibrio vulnificus. Abstract. (October 2008). Accessed at 120 Andrews, et al., Oyster Irradiation, 26. 55


about safe consumption.121 Floridas rapid growth and de velopment continues to degrade water quality in estuaries and coastal communities where oysters thrive Man dies from oysters! the headlines shout. 122 At the same time the media reports a catastrophe, it educates the public about the importance of thoroughly cooking oysters. Were not saying, Dont eat oysters, said Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services spokesman David Adams. Eat them. Enjoy them. Just cook them first, was his advice after a spate of seven oyster-relate d deaths in Florida in the early 1990s.123 If one has any doubt, that advice is probably the best. Public agencies at the federal, state, and local level provide educationa l outreach to oyster consumers, from brochures available online with a simple search of appropriat e keywords (See Appendix B) to educational workshops such as the Oyster School deve loped by the University of Florida Sea Grant Program, which offers seafood retailers th ree days of comprehensive and practical training for marketing raw oyste rs from harvest to table.124 In partnership with the International She llfish Safety Conference (ISSC), the Gulf States committed to reduce the rate of Vibrio vulnificus infection by 60 percent by December 31, 2008. For its part, Florida formulated strategies in a Vibrio vulnificus Risk Reduction Plan in April 2005.125 The Gulf States did not achieve the 60 percent illness rate reduction goal by the end of 2008. Because of its immediate focus on the H1N1 121 William S. Arnold and Mark E. Berrigan, A Summary of the Oyster (Crassostrea virginica) Fisher in Florida. A Report to the Division of Marine Fisheries, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, January 2002. 122 Man dies from oysters, Tampa Tribune 4 September 1993. 123 M. Soko, Cook em before you eat em, oyster lovers told, St. Petersburg Times, 10 December 1992, E1. 124 The first Oyster School was held in Apalachicola in October 2007, and another was held there in October 2008. The next will take place in January/Feb ruary 2010 according to UFIFAS research scientist Victor Garrido. Personal communication, 19 August 2009. 125 Accessed at the Florida Bureau of Aquaculture, publications/VVriskreduction.pdf 56


(Swine) flu health event, the Center fo r Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has delayed final calculations of 2008 Gulf state rates of V. vulnificus illness; however, a 35 percent illness reduction rate is anticipated, 25 percent short of the goal. In accordance with requests by the ISSC, which has taken the lead on this issue, each Gulf state must submit proposals, due in October 2009, for achieving the additiona l 25 percent reduction in illness. Implementation will begin in Ma y 2010. This effort will create even more rules for the Nations most h eavily regulated food industry.126 Interestingly, the Florida Department of Health reports that in 2006, 24 cases of Vibrio vulnificus were reported in the state, and only seven of those were related to consumption of raw oysters. In fact, 13 cases were wound-related, and one was attributed to crab consumption. However, of those contracting the bacterium, there were four more deaths as a result of raw-oyster consumption, two from wound infections, and two in which the source of the infection coul d not be identified. The Florida Department of Health considers a single case equal to an outbreak due to the virulence of Vibrio vulnificus .127 Although the CDC confirms the number of cases reported from 22 coastal states, it estimates that twice the number of reported cases actually occur; in other words, half remain unreported. Most of those cases are reported by the Gulf States of Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas, with which the CDC has collaborated on Vibrio reporting for a longer peri od of time (See Figure 10.) Rather than attempt to balance its response along the high wire between government regulation in the name of public health and the economic interests of oyster 126 Heil, personal communication. 127 Florida Department of Health, Division of Environmental Health, An overview of foodborne Vibrio vulnificus, Florida, 2006. Accessed at: ent/foodsurveillance/pdfs/AnOverviewofFoodborneVibriovulnificus. pdf 57


industry, the Center for Science in the Pub lic Interest (CSPI) ac tively campaigns for mandatory post-harvest processing for all oys ters harvested in the Gulf of Mexico.128 Despite implementation of an ISSC 2001 risk management plan, the number of deaths and illnesses caused by raw oysters contaminated with the dangerous Vibrio vulnificus bacteria remained relatively constant through August 2005. The CSPI claimed the reason deaths did not increase was because in 2003 the state of California actually banned the sale of summer-harvested Gulf coast oysters that were not certified as have been post-harvest treated. Despite studies th at indicate post-harvest cold treatments and hydrostatic pressure do not affect consumer attitudes on oyster taste, the industry has been slow to introduce those post-harvest treatments.129 In the meantime, Florida DACS continues its efforts to educate consumers about the benefits of purchasing trea ted oysters; but it walks a fine line so as not to offend traditional oyster processors and jeopardize sales of their non-treated product. Considering the widely-known and positive reputation of Apalachicola oysters, the DACS does not need to go out of its way to deve lop marketing strategies for this regions oysters, according to Paul Balthorp in the Florida Bureau of Seafood and Aquaculture Marketing.130 Perhaps so, but this view is in stark contrast to funds and energy the department expended during a recent three-ye ar Wild and Wonderful Florida Shrimp 128 Founded by three scientists in 1971, The Center for Science in the Public Interest, based in Washington, DC, publishes the Nutrition Action Healthletter, with 900,000 subscribers, whose subscriptions are the main source of the organizations f unding. According to its website the CSPI accepts no funding from government or corporate sources, in keeping with their mission to educate the public, advocate government policiesconsistent with scientific evidence on health and environmental issues, and counter industrys powerful influence on public opinion and public policies. 129 Center for Science in the Public Interest, Deaths, illnesses from contaminated oysters continue. Press release, 18 August 2005. Accessed at 130 Telephone interview by author, 3 September 2009. 58


campaign launched by the DACS in 2006 to coun ter the flood of cheap, farmed shrimp imported from foreign countries like Vietnam, China, India, and Brazil.131 In the end, the onus is on the consuming public to consider the risk of illness as a consequence of consuming oysters, especially fo r those people consider ed at high-risk for bacterial and viral infection. The Gulf Oyster Industry Council warns, The consumer is the ultimate arbitrator of risk.132 With increased vigilance on the part of consumers, and continuing public health edu cation, consumers should be armed with enough information to make an informed decision about the potential consequences of eating raw oysters. 131 John Grimes and Don Yow, Globalizing Shrimp : Floridas Wild & Wonderful Shrimp Program, Southeastern Geographer, 49(2), 2009: 200-220; Barbera Turnbull, Marketing Campaign Helps Florida Shrimp Industry Beset by Flood of Foreign Imports. Press Release, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, 8 September 2006. 132 The Gulf Oyster Industry Counc ils critical analysis of the U.S. General Accounting Office Report Federal Oversight of Shellfish Safety Needs U.S., GAO-01-702, July 2001. 59


Chapter Three Apalachicola: Shipping and Seafood Processing Emerges In the 1820s, planters in th e northern Florida territory, eas tern Alabama, and as far north as Columbus, Georgia, sent flatboats laden with cotton down the continuous southflowing currents of the Chattahoochee, Flint and Apalachicola Rivers to cotton town a bustling maritime trading post on the west bank of the mouth of Apalachicola River. Cotton reigned and continued to do so for decades. Cotton Town became the town of Apalachicola in 1831. Steamboats plied up and down the Apalachicola River with goods and people. The Apalachicola Advertiser boasted, Our wharfs present the appearance of a great Commercial City indeed, our Bay is full of all kinds of craftfour new steamboats have arrived within the last two weeks intended for trade between this place and Columbus.133 In Apalachicolas halcyon trading da ys during the 1840s and 1850s, as many as 43 sturdy brick warehouses brimmed with m echanically compressed cotton bales bound for textile mills throughout the American Northeast and the English Midlands.134 Lighter craft vied for loading positions at Apalachicolas busy quays. These shallowwater craft ferried cotton loads across th e bay to larger, deep er-hulled, multi-masted schooners, brigs, barks, and square-riggers anchored outside of West Pass between St. 133 Steamboats, Apalachicola Advertiser, 3 January 1835. 134 Lynn Willoughby, Apalachicola Aweigh: Shipping and Seamen at Floridas Premier Cotton Port, The Florida Historical Quarterly, 69(2), (Oct. 1990): 178-194; George Chapel, A Brief History of the Apalachicola Area, accessed at 60


Vincent and St. George Islands. Sailing a tr iangular route, these ships mostly traveled east around the peninsula of Florida, to Boston or New York City and Liverpool, England.135 They returned to Apalachicola with relatively little in the way of imported goods, so self-sufficient were inhabitants of th e region. Staples items such as sugar, salt, and potatoes often arrived as ballast in the ships holds.136 According to the 1840 census, Apalachicolas population numbered about one thousand residents. However, between December and May, the peak of cotton shipping season, the town swelled to twice that number.137 Sailors, teamsters, and traders fr equented the towns hotels and oyster bars.138 First recorded for sale in Apalachic ola in 1836, local oysters have been a continuous commodity given the abundance of the natural resource.139 In 1881, naturalist Ernest Ingersoll quoted a fr iend who had recently visited the area: This neighborhood has been highly fa vored with a large number of beds furnishing oysters of large size and fine flavor, which are easily procured and distributed by means of river steamers fr om (the town of) Apalachicola, through a wide inland area. Besides a number of large reefs in St. George and St. Vincent sounds and Apalachicola Bay, there are scattered all through the deeper waters a great many small beds. The depth of water here averages 7 feet, and it is brackish and full of sediment. The oysters from th ese beds are of superior flavor; I found none better in any part of the Gulf during my visit in 1881.140 135 Willoughby, Apalachicola Aweigh, 193. 136 Ibid. 190. 137 In Apalachicola Aweigh Willoughby describes that trade was quieter between June and December because the depth of the Apalachicola River and beyond to the north was of ten too shallow for boat traffic. Summer rains brought the water levels back to navigable heights in late fall when commercial trading would increase, 179. 138 Willoughby, Apalachicola Aweigh, 179. 139 Clyde L. MacKenzie, Jr., Histo ry of Oystering in the United Stat es and Canada, Featuring the Eight Greatest Oyster Estuaries, Marine Fisheries Review, 58 (4), (1996): 1-87, n/p. 140 E. Ingersoll, The Oyster Industry. In G. Brown Goode, (Ed.). The History and Present Condition of the Fishery Industries. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Gov. Print. Off., 1881, 194. 61


To ensure viability and flavor, only shell-st ock oysters were shippe d, and only regionally, layered in barrels between wet burlap bags or damp Spanish moss as late as 1895. Then, faster railroad distribution allowed vendors to supply shucked meats packed in ice.141 The completion of the Atlantic and Gulf Railroad between Bainbridge and Savannah Georgia signaled the demise of Apalachic ola as a lively international trading and shipping port.142 Buyers and sellers of cotton foun d it more economical, and faster, to ship cotton via train to Atlantic ports such as Savannah and Charleston, and avoid sailing from Apalachicola around the Florida peninsula.143 In 1856, Fernandina Beach, on the Atlantic coast just north of Jacksonville, witnessed Floridas first venture into canning oysters. Set on the Nassau River, it wa s an unsuccessful venture, but a R immigrant, Saul Goffin, bought the property in 1893, renovated the plant in order to can shrimp, crabs, and citrus, and crushed the oyster shell-stock piles to construct roads in his self-named community, Goffinsville. ussian 144 At about the same time, the Apalachicola oyster industry was coming into its own. Indeed, Apalachicola became host to of several decades of successful seafood canning, beginning with oysters in 1888, and even tually including shrimp, clams, turtle soup, crabmeat, and coquina broth. By 1941, however, only nine licensed seafood canners remained in the state and shrimp ha d overtaken oysters as the canned seafood of choice. Cheaper canned seafood imports fr om Japan handicapped the Florida seafood 141 MacKenzie, Jr., History of Oystering, n/p. 142 Rogers, Outposts on the Gulf, 95. 143 Willoughby, Apalachicola Aweigh, 194. 144 MacKenzie, History of Oystering, n/p; Park site once home of Goffinsville community, Florida Times-Union, 9 August 2009. 62


Figure 15. A young oyster fisher Randy Summerford says he starts out at 4 am. one day, is out all night in the little oyster boat and back next day some time. Gets a share of the proceeds. Location, Apalachicola, Florida, January 1909. Source: Library of Congress National Child Labor Committee Collection Photographs by Lewis Hine canning marketa situation provoking passage of a hefty import dut y on the product in August 1941, followed by a complete embargo when the United States enter World War II later that year.145 Unfortunately, the blight of the canning i ndustry in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century was always its abuse of the labor of women and children. Early twentieth century photographer Lewis Hine documented the controversies surrounding child labor issues; Figure 15 depicts a sixteen-year-old youngs ter who told Hine that he had been migrating from Georgia for four years to work the Apalachicola oyster season from October to mid-April. Figure 16 illu strates a common migrant family who might 145Florida Department of Agriculture, Canning in Florida 1942 New Series Bulletin, no. 117, Tallahassee, FL, 71-72. 63


Figure 16 Six members of Slebzak family in field, fi ve of whom are working on Bottomley's farm near Baltimore, Maryland. Lewis Hine, photographer. Photographic print. 1909 July. work the vegetable fields during Marylands spring, then move into Baltimores vegetable canning operations in summer and early fall, and then migrate to the Gulf of Mexico in October to work in the region s shrimp and oyster ca nning industry through the winter. With the 1912 founding of the fe deral Childrens Bureau, the first national agency for child welfare, public awareness of the interstate migrati on of child labor drew attention to the oyster canni ng industry. Owen Lovejoy, then Secretary of the National Child Labor Committee, a privat e, non-profit organization that led the child labor reform movement at the turn of th e twentieth century, told the New York Times : other problems of [laboring children incl ude] education, health and citizenship. Here is a case in point: In certain oyster canning plant in Florida, little children are employed all winter, under conditions by the way of absolute filth, as helpers. Some of them are Negro ch ildren; most of them are Poles and Hungarians. And these Poles and Hungari ans are not Florida children, they are imported from Baltimore. Every fall these children are sent down from Maryland to Florida, and every spring they are shippe d back again. All wi nter they work in the oyster canneries on the Florida coast, and our agents are told that it is all right 64


for them to work in the winter because in the spring the oyste r season is over and the children go to school. But as soon as their work in Florida is ended and they are sent back to Maryland, they are put to work immediately on the fruit canningand our agents are told that of c ourse they work in the summer, but then they go to school all the rest of the ye ar.The Childrens Bureau, being a Federal body, will be empowered to investigate just such cases as that.146 Nine years after Lewis Hine photogra phed children working in Maryland farm fields (See Figure 16), a Bureau of Childre ns Labor investigator, Viola Paradise, investigated the use of the labor of child ren who migrated between the Baltimore canning plants and the Gulf of Me xico seafood canning plants.147 Figure 17 lends credibility to the range of ages of children Paradise encountered in the canning operations, as well as in less than desirable living condi tions with which they coped supplied through the cannery. Figure 17. Children work and play among oyster shells in a Gulf cannery, c. 1918. Source: Viola Paradise, 65-.2. 146 Work of Childrens Bureau, New York Times, 29 September 1912. 147 Viola Paradise was an investigator with the Childre ns Bureau, U.S. Department of Labor in the early 1900s. In November 1922, The American Child A Monthly Bulletin of General Child Welfare published by the Childrens Bureau, reported on page five that Pa radise declared that there is no gain in child labor even for the employer; that it is caused not by greed but by stupidity; that to use child labor today is like using a horse-drawn vehicle instead of changing to motor power. Paradise continued to be active in shaping public policy regarding childrens welfare well into the mid-century. 65


Figure 17 is copied from a 1918-19 study by th e Childrens Bureau on Child Labor and the Work of Mothers in Oyst er and Shrimp Canning Comm unities on the Gulf Coast.148 In her investigations along the Gulf Coast, Viola Paradise concen trated on 22 canning operations spread among two Louisiana towns on the Mississippi Rive r, six coastal towns in Mississippi, and one in FloridaApal achicola. According to Paradise, the 1919 season was abnormal because of World War I and some canneries closed temporarily. New Orleans was not included because at the time of the study the amount of oyster and shrimp canning in that city was negligible.149 The report offers a rich description of i ndustrial life in the Gulf of Mexico seafood processing communities. Paradise noted in th e reports introduction that because it was customary for employers to import families from Baltimore for the oyster and shrimp season, her study investigated labor recruitment methods in Baltimore.150 The practice began in 1905 when Baltimore ceded its acclaim as the capital of canning to the Gulf region. The Gulf Coast canning industry grew so rapidly a local labor shortage forced employers to import of experienced workers from mostly Baltimore and New York. Paradise reported that th e labor demand could have been met with local African American help, but the reasons given [for not doing so] were those usually given for the non-employment of blacks in factory work in the South. Racist sout herners would rather hire white immigrant labor than local black labor. At the time of Paradises investigation, only 12 employers used Negro labor in actual canner work.151 Canning employers 148 Viola Paradise, Child Labor and the Work of Mothers in Oyster and Shrimp Canning Communities on the Gulf Coast Childrens Bureau, U.S. Department of Labor (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1922). 149 Ibid., 8-9. 150 Ibid. 151 Paradise, 69. 66


preferred workers they referred to as Bohe miansPolish immigrants in particular, but also Slavs, Czechs, Hungarians, and Austrian s, all of whom the employers described as being better than the local workers because they stick to their work.152 It is no wonder they did stick to their work: they were en trapped. At the end of summer vegetable canning season in Baltimore, row bosses arrived from the Gulf Coast to recruit workers for that regions autumn, winter, and spring seafood canning seasons. Gulf region employers told the row bosses to seek out fam ily men. Families were less likely to move on if the employment situation did not suit them So, enticed by warm climate, free rent, free fuel, sometimes free furniture, and family rail fare, many came south. Some employers offered return fares if a family st ayed for the entire canning season; otherwise, workers bore the return fare expense themselv es, though most could not. Rarely were the employment terms contractual, and the wo rk could be very irregular, depending on harvest conditions. Oysters were shucked and canned as harvested oysters left the steamer cages. Shrimp were picked, peeled, and canned as soon as the boats unloaded. Workers were as likely to be called in to th e factory by the watchman as early as 3 a.m. or as late as 7 p.m. and worked until the load s were processed. Some of the local workers resented the imported labor on the grounds th at it kept wages ar tificially low: Theytell the people lies to get em here. Wed get a living wageif it werent for imported labor. Some of the factories use almo st all children; they do it to keep down the mens wages. They would rather pay 15 cents an hour to two children than give a man 30 cents for the same job.153 Children as young as five y ears old worked alongside their parents, especially their mothers, in the oys ter shucking room or picking shrimp. They 152 Ibid., 72. 153 Ibid., 74. 67


would run and hide if labor inspectors called on the operation. Of the families Paradise visited, children under 16 years of age we re employed in the canneries. Of these, 334 were under 15 years of age, 1 being 4 years and another 5 years of age and 64 percent of them worked regularl ywhenever the factory was operating.154 Child labor was taken for granted by all: parents, employers, and the community. Childrens education was secondary to family survival. Federal and state labor laws regarding child labor at this time were weak by todays standards and tough to enforce. Living quarters for the migrant workers camps, while most often supplied by the employer, were primitive and overcrowded. Disease and especially injury from shucking oysters and peeling shrimp were rampant. Workers purchased gloves at their own expense, but the gloves rarely lasted more th an a day. A mother might share a pairs of gloves with her child, one glove each, but sizes did not suit little children s hands so they most often went without. Sanitary conditions in the plants were terrible, in part due to ignorance of bacteria. Blood poisoning was not uncommon, and knowing what we do today about the Vibrio bacteria, it is not surprising to read of the documented problems with festering sores, unsuccessful lancing effo rts, and high fevers. Paradise reports that some physicians who treated the workers did no t take oyster cuts lightly, believing the dirt on the shell compromised the injured pa tient. The workers believed that shrimp peeling was worse than oyster shucking because it made their hands so raw, they bled. Some would pick shrimp for no more th an two days, then take two days off consequently enduring the financial hardship of that decision. Ammonia-like shrimp acids affected even the men who unloaded shr imp from boats into th e carts; it ate through 154 Ibid., 11, 14. 68


the leather of their boots leav ing their feet raw. It wa s not unusual for workers to continue loading or peeling even as their hands and feet bled.155 Some employers provided buckets of al um water which offered some relief to cuts and scrapes of oyster shucking, burns fr om steam, and raw skin and infections from the acid juices and pricking barbs of shrimp peels. Seeking physical relief in order to keep working, people spent part of their m eager wages on their own supply of alum powder and sticks. Falls on slippery fl oors and crushing by the heavy steam carts occurred regularly. Incidental to the pi cking work were the conditions of bad odors, dampness, and cold, because the shrimp had to be kept iced and the cold melting water soaked the workers clothes and footwear.156 Paradise does not identify any of the oyster and shrimp canning operations by name. However, at the time in Apalachicol a, the Ruge Brothers had been operating a canning company since 1885. Bay City Packing Company marketed the Pearl brand of Apalachicola-processed seafood. The Rice Br others also had a successful oyster and shrimp-packing operation.157 William Lee Popham, a local land speculator, was carried away by his fascination with the reproductive capabil ities of local oysters. In the early 1920s, he and his wife, Maude, founded the Oy ster Growers Co-O perative Association, planted live oysters and shell and sold shares in the enterprise. He even went so far as to build a state-of-the-industry 61,000 square foot oyster factory and warehouse with cooling fans and steam heat.158 Popham was well-liked within the community and was so convincing about the fecundity of the native oyster population, that he was able to sell 155 Ibid., 31-33. 156 Ibid., 34. 157 Chapel, A Brief History of the Apalachicola Area, Chapter 11. 158 Rogers, Outposts on the Gulf, 213-216. 69


fraudulent oyster leases which led to crimin al charges and prison time. Consequently, his company never fulfilled the hopes for ec onomic success in the Apalachicola business community.159 In the late 1920s, Apalachicola boasted more than a dozen seafood processing plants. However, by the late 1930s, in part because of severe drought conditions throughout the Apalachicola River watershed, only six seafood plants remained in operation. But, in 1934 with the finished construction of the six-mile long John Gorrie Bridge between Apalachicola and its oystering sister town across th e bay, Eastpoint, the New York Times declared, This old fishing town, bo ttled up for 110 years, is about to emerge from its isolation.160 Figure 18. Women shucking oysters at the Apalachicola Fish and Oyster Company, 1947. Courtesy Florida Memory Collection. Then, in 1947, the face of oyster shuckers changed, too. Figure 18 illustrates the use of local labor. As more blacks moved nor th to take advantage of better paying jobs, more and more local white women took on oyster shucking. Many found the plant jobs 159 Ibid., Chapel, A Brief History of Apalachicola, Chapter 11. 160 Apalachicolas 110 Years of Isolation to End Soon, New York Times, 3 August 1934. 70


flexible enough to fit in with minding their children and being available to shuck oysters for their husbands harvest, too. They also benefitted from laws implemented to ensure better workplace safety conditions and sanitary standards for the benefit of public health. 71


Chapter Four Environmental and Cultural Sustainability This coast is the Kingdom of oysters Pierre de la Charlevoix This industry is sustainable and non-polluting. Apalachicola Bay Chamber of Commerce For centuries, the oyster bounty of the greater Apalachicola Bay waters has moved people to wonder and curiosity. In th e early eighteenth century, Pierre de la Charlevoix, a Jesuit historian who explored and documented the far-flung empire of New France, described his partys encounter with the area: All these low lands, which we coaste d as near as possi ble, are bordered with trees, to which are fastened a prodi gious quantity of little oysters, of an exquisite taste: other, much larger and less dainty, are found in the sea in such numbers that they form banks in it, which we take at first for rocks on a level with the surface of the water.161 In more recent times, the local flavor of Florida seafood sells tourists the idea that their get-away is not comp lete without dining on local oysters. In 1965, the New York Times reported the cooperative effort of th e adjoining Apalachicola Bay counties Franklin, Gulf, and Wakulla, to make their attractions for touris ts better known and targeting the more affluent post-World Wa r II middle class lifestyle by promoting the 161 Having left France to teach in Quebec for several years, Father Pierre Xavier de la Charlevoix was charged by the French Court to return to the New World to explore and document New France. His party came upon Floridas Gulf Coast enroute from the Bahamas to the mouth of the Mississippi River in the early 1720s. The description of the Apalachicola Bay area is included in one of his many historic manuscripts, Histoire et description generale de la Nouvelle-France published in Paris in 1744. Edward Spillane. "Franois-Xavier Charlevoix." The Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 3. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908; Quoted in E. Ingersoll, The Oyster Industry, in G. Brown Goode, ed., The History and Present Condition of the Fishery Industries (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1881)., 193. 72


unspoiled natural resources of the region.162 The New York Times declared Apalachicola is probably best known, at leas t to Floridians, as the home of Florida oysters. So important a factor is seafood in the life of this area th at Apalachicola holds a seafood festival every November; se veral thousand peopl e attended the 1965 festival.163 By 2002, the Times declared that food critics a nd restaurant owners from Miami and New Orleans say Apalachicola Bay oysters are among the finest in the world.164 Fanning that reputation today, the Florida Seafood Festival is a foundation of the tourist business in Apalachicola. A two-day event occurring annually on the first weekend in November, the festival boasts attendance of greater th an 50,000; in a town with a 2007 population of just 2,237, the fes tivals economic impact and challenging logistics are significant. This festival highlights the local seafood industry with emphasis on the oyster, a fact affirmed by the festival reign of King Retsyo (oyster spelled backwards) and oyster-eating and -shucking contests. In 2007, the U.S. Travel Industry Associ ation arrived at a list of the top ten favorite destinations for culin ary touristspeople who make travel decisions based on food-related experience. and Flor ida ranked second behind California.165 No surprise, then, that culinary tourism thrives in Apalach icola. The Fall/Winter 2006 front cover of the upscale SweetTea Journal: From the Porches of Northwest Florida flaunts, Only in Florida: The Oysters of Apalachicola emblazoned across an iconic view of the lone oysterman working his tongs against a setting sun. Luring tourists by their taste buds is 162 According to the organizations website, the U.S. Travel Association, based in Washington, D.C., is a non-profit trade organization that re presents and speaks for the common interests of the $740 billion U.S. travel industry. Accessed at bout/whatwedohtml ; C.E. Wright, Floridas Apalachicola Area is Astir, New York Times 3 January 1965. 163 C.W. Wright, see footnote immediately above. 164 From Apalachicola Bay, Oysters Rated the Best, New York Times 15 June 2002. 165 Dave Kovaleski, Top destinations for Foodies, Association Meetings (19) 2 (1 April 2007), para. 1. Accessed at 73


not restricted to the print media.166 While the cover of the pr int version of the official visitors guide of the Apal achicola Bay Area Chamber of Co mmerce boasts an attractive half-dozen raw oysters served on the half-s hell in the company of photos depicting breathtaking local sunsets, folksy fishing boats, and pretty Victorian homes, its complementary web page at asserts that ones visit to this pristine and charming coast will not be co mplete unless combined with some of the finest oysters in the world.167 The illustrative photo on the cover of the SweetTea Journal conveys a message beyond wouldnt you like to be right here? It portends the loss of Floridas oystering heritage. The message might as well be Get it now, while you can; this wont be around forever. The allure of local seafood a nd Floridas fishing heritage extends to participants in The Gatherings of the Flor ida Humanities Council, the state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. The Gatherings offer in-depth cultural tours guided by scholars, and local leaders of unique Florida communities. But according to program director, Monica Kile, fresh, local seafood is the biggest attraction.168 Kile states that participants curiosity about the unique remote, and non-homogenous traditions of Apalachicola are satisfied in part by the very place-based itinerary that includes visiting oyster-shucking and seafood processing facilities and enjoying meals that feature and celebrate the local culinar y resources. Kile comments that while not every participant chooses to visit the raw ba r, those who do seem little concerned about, nor have they ever questioned, the quality of the oysters; on the cont rary, they appear to 166 Mark Zaloudek, Luring tourists by their taste buds, Sarasota Herald-Tribune 7 June 2006. 167 Dining and Seafood, Apalachicola Bay Chamber of Commerce website. Available at 168 Interview by author on 3 June 2009 in St. Petersburg, Florida. 74


eat them with gusto, seemingly assured of th eir purity by reason of their freshness. She continues, They are looking to experience a strong sense of place when they visit Apalachicola, and food is a huge part of that experience.169 In May 2006, the food traditions of Fl oridas primary oyster region became the focus of a three-day field trip designed by the Southern Foodways Alliance under the direction of renowned food author, John T. Edge. Not only did the participants pay homage to the oystermen and women by tryi ng out the tonging effort out on bay waters for themselves, but they savored the frie ndly ambience of the Apalachicola community while devouring the fruits of the region, which beyond oysters include shrimp, crab, Tupelo honey, and smoked mullet.170 Fame of its archaically unchanging oyster traditions lends Apalachicola romantic draw. In 2008, a travel agen cy in Birmingham, Alabama, offered a Foraging for the Forgotten Coast package to journalists and travel writers ar ound the country that included tonging for ones own oyster dinner, prepared by no less than a James Beard Foundation Award171 nominee.172 That chef, Chris Hastings, prepared locally-gathered Tupelo honey and flounder gigged by the participants. Hastings affirmed this locavore keystone: "There's become such a disconnect between people and food," he says. "Do this trip and you start to understand seasona lity again. You can taste the difference."173 Marketing the locavore philosophy just might pa y off for Apalachicola. In a survey of 169 Ibid. 170 Sixth Southern Foodways Alliance Field TripFlori das Forgotten Coast: Apalachicola and Environs, 18-20 May 2006. Accessed at 171 Time magazine compared the James B eard Foundation Awards to the Os cars of the culinary world in Andrea Dorfmans article, Sweet Ta ste of Success: A Desserter from the Dance. 13 November 2000. Accessed online at,9171,998472,00html 172 Christopher Percy Collier, National Geographic Adventure June/July 2008. Accessed at 008/06/weekend-getaways/east-summer-text 173 A locavore is an eco-conscious person who eats locally grown food, i.e. food grown or produced within a set radius of, say, 100 miles; Collier, Ibid. 75


more than 1600 members of the American Culinary Federa tion, the National Restaurant Association found that sustainable seafood and local produce appear in the top ten hot trends for restaurant menus in 2009.174 One can make the argument that the attraction to this remote oystering and shrimping community is more than food and how that defines its character; indeed, the fear is that if one waits too long to visit th is real place, it may no longer exist; that in fact, what visitors to the area seek is a ch ance to experience a distinctive Florida culture that may disappear in the not too distant future. D evelopment pressures, pollution, drought, hurricane destruction, and a thirty-year old battle over water allocation along the Apalachicola, Chattahoochee, Flint River (ACF ) system threaten th e life of the bay and the centuries-old fisherfolk tradit ions of the Florida panhandle. Already subject to the freshwater flows th at affect naturally varying levels of salinity, decreased upriver water releases through the dams negatively impacted the lower reaches of the ACF and the bay, too. Acco rding to the local community, much of the blame rests in Atlantas need for extrac ting water from Lake Lanier, a result of completion of the Buford Dam on the Chattahoochee River in 1956. The 38,000 acre lake has an average normal summer depth of about 1,000 ft. Operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), the reservoir of Lake Sidney Lanier northeast of greater Atlanta, became the citys main water source. However, the states of Alabama and Florida, which share the Apalachicola, Cha ttahoochee, and Flint Rivers system with Georgia, contend that the or iginal three purposes for building the reservoir were to 174 Annika Stensson and Mike Donohue, Healthy Kids Meals, Local Produce, Mini Desserts Among Hottest Menu Trends for 1009, According to National Restaurant Association Research, Press Release, National Restaurant Association, 9 December 2008. Accessed at http://wwwrestaurant. org/pressroom/pressrelease.cfm?ID=1708 76


control floods, float barges downstream, and generate power. Therefore, Atlantas drinking water supply is a secondary issue.175 According to Federal law, if two or more states have access to a rivers flow, ripari an rights prevail and each state shares equal access to the water. Yet, Georgias laisse z-faire growth management policies have aggravated the ongoing drought. Heightening the tri-stat e sensitivities to ACF wate r allocation, non-irrigation water use in the ACF alone increased about 260 percent between 1970 and 1990and irrigation use increased 1,300 percent. 176 Additionally, droughts, one from May 1998 to September 2002 and the more recent drought from 2006 to 2009, have put increased stress on Atlantas fast-gro wing population, their water re sources, as well as the organisms dependent on those same water re sources. Needless to say, recent drought further enflamed the tri-state water conflict.177 Despite the adoption of ACF Compacts by each of the three states in 1997, negotiate d agreements that were Congressionally authorized negotiations expected to pr ovide a formal and legal framework for addressing water-allocation issu es, basin-wide management, and dispute resolution. Negotiations failed repeatedly.178 In June 2006, drought-stricken Lake Lanier had dropped by as much as six feet and was de scending. The slow flow of water to Apalachicola Bay was further aggravated by ag ricultural irrigation draws from the Flint River basin. Consequently, Floridas down-river mussels st arted to die, and nutrient 175 Stacy Shelton, Lake Lanier Deci sion Pending on Water Use Issue, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 12 August 2008. 176 Jeffrey L. Jordan,Conflict Comes to the Humid East: The Tri-State Water Wars, in Interstate Water Allocation in Alabama, Florida, and Georgia, Jeffrey L. Jordan and Aaron T. Wolf, eds., (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2006), 21. 177 Ibid. 178 Ibid, 27-28. 77


supplies and salinity levels required for Floridas Apalachicola Bay oysters to thrive were in serious jeopardy.179 Haphazard efforts on Atlantas part to conserve water infuriated downriver stakeholders along and at the mouth of the Ap alachicola River. "We know they've got to have drinking water in Atlanta and we don't want to talk harsh on them [sic], said Keith Millender, whose family has farmed oyste rs and netted shrimp for generations in Apalachicola Bay. But tell them to stop f illing up their swimming pools and washing their cars. We've got to earn a liv ing, and they can sacrifice, t oo. If they can't get to their boats on Lake Lanier because their dock is st anding dry, tell them to do what we do: get a dingy and paddle out."180 The ongoing drought and lack of freshwat er releases north of the ACF system create extraordinary conditions to which oys ters are not adapted. Marine research scientist Bill Arnold explai ns, Oysters may not be physiologically adapted on an individual basis, [nor] ecol ogically adapted on a population ba sis, to such anthropogenic alterations because those alterations have occurred during a very short period of time relative to the evolutionary history of the animal.181 The late Buddy Ward, an Apalachicola seaf ood harvester and processor, reiterated in 2002 the importance of adequate drainage of the ACF into Apalachicola Baybecause oysters depend on microscopic or ganic materials for sustenance.182 The battle over water releases is two-edged. If drought conditions pr evail, the river flow that brings nutrient179 Florida Oysters suffering for Georgia Drought, St. Petersburg Times, 23 July 2006. 180 Mike Williams, For proud Florida oyst ermen, a way of life is endangered, Atlanta JournalConstitution 3 December 2007. 181 Arnold, A Summary of the Oyster, Ibid, 14. 182 Buddy Ward, in Faith Eidse, (Ed.), Voices of the Apalachicola. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2006. 78


rich mud into the bay is minimal. On the other hand, heavy rain fall or water releases from the dams along the system bring concen trations of pollutant s along with necessary nutrients. Commercial fisherman and retail seafood business owner Steve Davis declares, This bay depends on that river for the mud. Polluti on dont outweigh the nutrients coming down with the mud.183 Lake Lanier is now just two feet below its full pool level of 1071 feet, and the U.S. District Court recently ruled that th e U.S. Army Corps of Engineers illegally allowed drinking water withdrawals from the Lake and that Georgi a has only three years to address Lake Lanier water use and negotiate a deal with Alabama and Florida. If no deal is reached within three years, permitted withdrawals will be reset to 1970s levels, those prior to metropolitan A tlantas recent population boom.184 If that happens, its other water sources will not sustain the current regional population. According to Chuck Adams, a professor and marine economist with the Food and Resource Economics Department and Florida Sea Grant College Program at the University of Florida, the concept of sustainability of marine resources ranks highest among marine resource utiliza tion concerns, despite his claim that shellfish are becoming increasingly popular.185 In other words, the increasing popularity of seafood consumption increases the possibility that certain marine species might be overfished, jeopardizing their reproductive capab ility thereby resulting in a diminished population, well below the level needed to su stain demand of current and even future 183 Steve Davis, as quoted in Eidse, Voices, 132. 184 Lake Sidney Lanier Water Level, Lakes Online on 28 September 2009, ; Jeremy Redmon, Lake Lanier Blame Game Brews, Atlanta JournalConstitution, 26 July 2009. 185 Chuck Adams, Selected factors affectin g seafood markets in the United States, Journal of Food Distribution Research (1998), (29)1: 8-17. 79


generations of consumers. Simon Dresner, in his book The Principles of Sustainability addresses the slippery arguments surrounding th e concept of sustainability. He remind us that the 1987 report of the United Na tions World Commission on Environ Development, Our Common Future, successfully drew the noti on of sustainability under the umbrella of sustainable developmen t, i.e. equity between generations and equity within generations. s ment and 186 Yet, environmentalists and conservative economists argue about sustainable development constantly, the fo rmer making the case for controlling the depletion of Earths resources, its natural capital, and the latters line of reasoning that timely advances in science and technology will make up for those risks. In general, Adams indicat es that seafood continues to lose market share to meat, in part because people are less familiar with varieties of seafood and how to prepare it.187 I argue that the culture of suspicion su rrounding different seafoods also influences demand. The culture of suspicion is at least partly driven by the media. One localized bout of gastroenteritis tracked to oysters from a particular place of harvest makes headline news and as a result all oysters come under suspicion, as discussed earlier in this narrative. The recent scare of e-coli contaminated peanut butter from one processing plant in Georgia caused a majo r drop in consumer purchase of all peanut butters.188 Regarding seafood specificall y, the recent flap in Florida whereby unscrupulous restaurants, and even wholesale dealers, substituted cheaper kinds of white fish meat for Floridas iconic grouper, a variety for which tour ists as well as loca ls are willing to pay a 186 Simon Dresner, The Principles of Sustainability (London: Earthscan Publications Ltd., 2002), 2-5; World Commission on Environment and Development, Our Common Future (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987). 187 Ibid., 14. 188 Andrew Martin and Liz Robbins, Fallout Widens as Buyers Shun Peanut Butter, New York Times, 7 February 2009. 80


premium, attracted much attentionso much so that the Division of Marketing and Development of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services established a website entitled Be An Inform ed Consumer to specifically educate people about the possibility of cheaper fish of inferior quality being substituted for Florida grouper.189 It is interesting to note that the Crassostrea virginica, American or Eastern oyster, does not appear on the RAFT (Renewing Americas Food Traditions) Red list of Fisheries at Risk in North America, although in the ca tegory for shellfish at risk, a number of bivalves do appear includi ng bay scallops, Olympia oysters, quahogs, and soft shell mussels.190 That fact might indicate that the mo llusk continues to be prolific enough that challenges of population growth, pollution, clim ate change, and weather events are not detrimental enough to negatively influence its ability to thrive even in marginal conditions. Seafood is sustainable, contends the seafood marketing division of the Florida Department of Agriculture, when the population of that species of fish is managed in a way that provides for todays needs without damaging the ability of the species to reproduce and be available for future generations.191 While Atlantic states, in particular Connecticut and Rhode Island, find it necessary to restore and enhance commercially harvested oyster reefs by artificial means, t hose efforts are not nece ssary in the Gulf of Mexico to sustain a viable population of Crassostrea virginica, according to a 2007 189 More information can be found online at, 190 Renewing Americas Food Traditions (RAFT) is a consortium founded by Gary Nabhan, PhD, author of Renewing Americas Food Traditions, and funded by a variety of food, seed, and culture conservationists. The Redlist: Seafood traditions at risk in North America was published in the Journal of Agricultural & Food Information. (9) 3 (2008): 186-195. 191 Florida Fishermen Help Keep Seafood Sustainable, Division of Marketing and Development, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services at 81


report commissioned by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) National Marine Fisheries. Resilient to broa d fluctuations in the characteristics of its ideal growth environmentsalinity, oxygen le vels, and temperaturethe Eastern oyster is a hardy creature, especially in Florida. Surveys of resource managers and independent experts conducted by the Biologi cal Review Team support that overharvesting oysters in Florida is not a major threat.192 The report concludes: there are some threats that may be signi ficant at a regional or local level. However, while the species encounters many threats throughout its range, none are considered to be overwhelmingly domina nt or advancing at a rate that would threaten the viability of the species throughout its full range. Based on the available informationthe long term pers istence of eastern oysters throughout their range is not at risk now or in the foreseeable future.193 While the Eastern oyster may not be thre atened biologically throughout its range, ongoing drought and more reduced freshwater releases from the northern regions of the ACF frustrate the seafood i ndustry in the Apalachicola region, and the continuous pressures of coastal development and populati on growth in the panhandle of Florida are the greatest threats to the Florida commerci al oystering industry, according to David Heil, Assistant Director of Florid as Division of Aquaculture.194 Population growth produces negative and positive consequences. Local governments want higher tax revenue that growth brings. Also, markets for goods a nd services increase, providing more choices and competition that benefit the community. However, without careful planning, growths impacts to the environment can be severe. Traffic congestion, air and water pollution, and loss of green spaces are commonplace. Stanley Smith asserts that a new populace influences the prevailing local life style and changes the nature of the 192 Ibid, 1. 193 Ibid, 2 194 Arnold, A Summary of the Oyster, 13 ; Heil interview. 82


community. It increases the number (and pe rhaps the intensity) of public and private disputes.195 Some Floridians rejoice over a recent report by the Bureau of Economic and Business Research at the University of Florida that conte nds Floridas population declined for the first time in over 60 years, by almost 58,000.196 While the states population increased 32 times between 1900 and 2000, Franklin Countys population barely doubledan anomaly clearly illustrated in Figure 19. That may change if the new regional airport under co nstruction near Panama City stimulates growth along the north Florida Panhandle coast. Year County Florida 1900 4,890 528,542 1910 5,201 752,619 1920 5,318 968,470 1930 6,283 1,468,211 1940 5,991 1,897,414 1950 5,814 2,771,305 1960 6,576 4,951,560 1970 7,065 6,789,443 1980 7,651 9,746,961 1990 8,967 12,937,926 2000 9,821 15,982,378 Figure 19. Population Trends in Franklin County, Florida. Source: 2000 U.S. Census Todays population in Apalachicola and Franklin County is not a mirror of the rest of Florida (see Figure 20). While the number of Hispanic people appears relatively low in Franklin County, anecdot ally, and not surprisingly, the Hispanic population in the 195 Stanley K. Smith, Florida Population Growth: Past, Present, and Future (Gainesville: Bureau of Economic and Business Research, University of Florida, 2005), 20. Available at http://www.bebr.ufl.ed u/content/florida-population-gr owth-past-present-and-future 196 Jeff Kunerth, Sunshine State may be a bit emptier, Orlando Sentinel, 18 August 2009, A1. 83


area is increasing. Employers seem to be ha ppy with their Hispanic workers saying they work hard and are dependable. Ethnic Composition of Franklin County & Florida, 20000 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 White Black Hispanic Source: 2000 U.S. Censu s Percenta g Franklin County Florida Figure 20. Ethnic Composition of Franklin County & Florida. Source: 2000 U.S. Census Over the centuries, many people along th e Panhandle coast of Florida believed the regions rich natural food resources prevented hunger within the communities. In 1948, one Northwest Florida resident, E. E. Callaway, noted Until 1941, when good roads and bridges came, there was no great incentive to own automobiles. [The people] did not pull their hair to know where the next meal was coming from.197 In other words, because of the good graces of Nature and with some determined physical effort, people working Apalachicola Bay could harvest a ready s upply of oysters, shrimp, crab, and many varieties of fish according to the season, just as they have done for many generations. Recently, one local resident claimed he don t think anybodys ever starved to death in Apalachicola because of the abundance of readily available seafood.198 197 E. E. Callaway, The Land of the Apalach, Literary Florida (April 1948), 3. The author found the unbound pages of this article in a folder of misce llaneous articles in the Apalachicola Public Library. 198 Steve Davis, as quoted in Eidse, Voices, 131. 84


Seventy-two year old coas tal native Martha Pearl Ward recounts how barren New Mexico seemed to her and her husband Buddy, a native of Apalachicola, during his Army stint in Albuquerque in the early 1950s.199 Facing uncertain employment on their return to their Apalachicola hometown, she reminde d him, When we get homeno matter, we can go catch fish, we can get oysters. We can survive. Out here [in New Mexico], you cant. They did go home, buying out her uncles Thirteen Mile Oyster Company. They harvested and marketed Apalachicola Bay oyste rs during the fall, wi nter, and spring, and shrimp in the summertime. 200 Some years are better than others. Its a hard life, but a good life, stated Ms. Ward.201 You really have to work at it; and you really have to put back for a rainy day, which is hard, its really hard.202 In fact, Apalachicola Bay can be a lifesaver for many people in the region, because when local businesses experience shut -downs or lay offs many in the community turn to oystering, relieved that th ey paid that annual license fee, just in case. Over one thousand Floridians currently hold $100 oyster licenses and one in ten persons in Franklin County is an oysterman or oyste rwoman, though many of those licenses just ensure second jobs.203 Many harvest oysters ju st to make ends meet.204 While the rigors 199 Martha Pearl Ward. Personal interview by the auth or in Apalachicola on Thur sday, 25 September 2008. Ms. Wards late husband, Buddy Ward, was the patria rch of Buddy Ward and Sons Seafood, still a family operation under the direction of son Tommy Ward. 200 Gulf oysters may be harvested year round; however, some areas are closed during the warmer summer months lessening economic potential, and demand for oysters tends to drop during this, their spawning period. By rotating to shrimp harvesting during summer season, local fisher folk attempt to maintain economic stability. 201 Ward interview. 202 Buddy Ward, as quoted in Eidse, Voices, 114. 203 Thomas Becnel, Apalachicola Bay oystermen still harvest by hand, Sarasota Herald-Tribune 27 December 2008. 204 James Golden, as quoted in Eidse, Voices, 125. 85


of tonging oysters will not necessarily make an oysterman rich, he will probably sleep good, according to John Richards, the former head of the Franklin County Comparison of Mean Annual Income Between Franklin County & Florida0 10000 20000 30000 40000 50000 Family Per Capita Source: 2000 U.S. Censu s Franklin County Florida Figure 21. Comparison of Mean Annual Income Between Franklin County & Florida. Source: 2000 U.S. Census. Seafood Workers Association If the wholesalers pay $16 per 60-pound sack and a good days work yields ten sacks, Ri chards calls that a pretty good days work. Its hard, Richard likes to say, but its fair.205 Accordingly, the 2000 cens us reveals that people in Apalachicola and Franklin C ounty much lower incomes than other Floridians (see 21). 205 Williams, For Proud Oystermen, AJC. 86


Figure 22 Skiffs stored in the backyard. The future of Floridas oyster industry? 2009. Photo by author. There is nothing glamorous about oysteri ng, an industry that can be likened more to farming than fishing. For example, unlike fishing, the oysterfolk do not have to leave their homes for extended periods of time. In my conversations with todays oystering families, the oystering parents repeated the se ntiment that they dont expect, nor do they encourage, their children to continue in the tradition of oystering for a living. While they admitted the kids will take a skiff out onto the bay to harvest for a few hours after school or on the weekends because they know with bit of hard workin a relatively short time, they can earn enough money to make a car payment, or put gas in their cars.206 My informal survey revealed that oystering parents are heartily encouraging their children to get an education, even if it means thei r children end up moving away from the area. 206 Cristal Bailey. Personal interview by the auth or in Eastpoint, Florida, on 24 September 2008. 87


On the other hand, oyster harvesting is a fa mily tradition, an art passed from one generation to the next. In oysterin, you gotta have a knowledge of the bay, where you want to go and what tide you wanna go on, sa id Steve Davis, oysterman, shrimper, and owner of Lloyds Fish Market, in Apalachicola.207 The locals who grow up in the industry have the advantage over newcomers by virtue of their intimate knowledge of the Figure 23. A thriving 13-Mile Oyster Comp any in Apalachicola, Florida. P hoto by author bay and often hold a license to harves t in case they another source of income. While some young people do work with family members on boats, either tonging or culling, many oystermen lament the lack of young people interested in pursuing commercial seafood harvesting, even as they refrain from encouraging their own family members to seek a career in the sea. One such person is Cristal Bailey, an Eastpoint oysterwoman who partners with her husband; she culls while he tongs in Apalach icola Bay. Their 16-year old son funds his 207 Quoted in Eidse, Voices, 135. 88


driving and entertainment expenses by ha ppily applying his af ter-school hours to harvesting oysters on occasion. His mother says, Its hard work, but hes young and strong and knows he can make money. Howe ver, we encourage him to continue his college-bound career plan; we dont want him to work in this uncertain and erratic industry. g an referring to the current legal harvest size of three inches.210 s 208 On the other hand, Tommy Wards son, TJ, might prove the exception; he seems proud to continue in the family tradition of Apalachicola Bay seafood supply.209 The rationale for discouraging children from extending the family tr aditions of oysterin is both economic and environmental. Oyste rs are on the decline. Now what they are catching I threw away when I first moved her e mourned one oysterm Figure 24 A typical example of many of the Apalach icola oysters houses closed as a result or economic stresses. 2008. Photo b of hurricane y author. In recent decades, development, both commercial and residential, as well a weather catastrophes have put a lot of pressure on the Bay communities and their 208 Bailey interview. 209 Tommy Ward. Personal interview by the author at Thirteen Mile Oyster Company on 23 September 2008. During the course of the interview, the author met TJ, Tommy Wards son. 210 Jerry Allen, as quoted in Eidse, 188. 89


maritime heritage. The seafood houses of Apalachicolas working waterfront are gradually giving way to economic pressure to adapt the area for tourism. Theres never in idle. You ride through. Every one of these old houses just waitin for condos.211 been much of a profit margin in the industr y, especially for the tongers. As James Golden observed, A lot of these old oys ter houses you know they paid probably over $100,000, $150,000 for em; its just sitt 211 James Golden, as quoted in Eidse, 124. 90


Conclusion Standing on the shore at Thirteen Mile, gazing out at the myriad oyster skiffs bobbing gently on the waters of Apalachicola Ba y, I want to believe that the scene will look pretty much the same fifty or one hundred years from now. However, all it takes to quash that thought is for me to turn around, get into my car, and work my way a few miles east into the town of Apalachicola and its neighbor across the ri ver, Eastpoint. All along U.S. Highway 98 sit half-demolished wooden buildings, their docks tilted and broken; faded, weather-beaten signs read Oysters, and weeds disguise the shellcovered parking lots. Figure 23 provides one example not far off the main highway in Apalachicola. Hardship and economics have al ways challenged the i ndustry, as has the lack of available workers. While seafood pr ocessors imported workers from Baltimore in the early 1900s, todays plant bos ses still like the work ethics of migrant workers. Kevin Begos, Executive Director of the Franklin County Oyster and Seafood Task Force, recently told me the declining workforce is a major concern among oystermen and dealers, despite a growing Hispanic conti ngency (young men and women in their 20s) in the seafood processing labor pool. While tradi tional oyster shuckers in more recent times have been local women, black and white, that workforce continues to grow more elderly. Many of them are over 50 years of age, a nd some are over 70, having shucked oysters since their youth. Today, most local youngsters do not want to do that work, unless they 91


absolutely have to.212 Figure 25 illustrates how little has changed over the last hundred years when it comes to shucking oysters. Workers stand at indi vidual work stations, stainless steel today rather th an the wood or concrete of ye steryear. They wear long aprons, leather gloves, boots, and stand on rais ed boards out of the way of pieces of shell and slippery, wet concrete. Figure 25 Modern-day oyster shuckers. Courtesy Florida Memory Collection. Natures forces provide an element of uncertainty in the industry. Affected by droughts as far north as the lower Appalach ian ranges and by hurrica ne-devastated reefs and flooded estuaries, the oysters, and thos e who make a living harvesting them, are subject to the whims of nature. As a resu lt of Hurricane Dennis in 2005, Lynn Martina, owner of Lynns Quality Oyster s in Eastpoint, said, after the storms, I didnt want to build back. But, I had peopleI had families you know, counting on me because they 212 Personal correspondence, 20 August 2009; Lynn Martina in an interview with Amy Evans about Floridas Forgotten Coast, Southern Foodways Alliance Oral History Program, 11 January 2006 in Apalachicola, FL. 92


cant do anything else. Most of them dont have an education. The bay is their education.213 That may not change, but commitment on the part of the state, manifested by quick action and funds to assist replenishing and restoring the beds, lessens the negative affects. Unlike in the early twen tieth century when sanitary and food safety regulations were either non-exis tent or just coming into be ing and irregularly enforced, todays regulatory environment is increasi ngly complex. Multiple layers of government rules and safeguardslocal, state, and fede raloverlap on issues of food handling, food safety, and worker training. And yet, regula tion is so complicated now, that resulting frustration may drive some long-timers out of business. They spend more time trying keeping up with bureaucratic paperwork and in compliance with foodhandling safety guidelines than working their trade hands-on. Indeed, a shift to mandatory post-harvest processing may be the straw that breaks the camels back. A vigorous campaign in underway by advocates of more stringent controls by the FDA to prevent foodborne illness. The CSPI is one example; the organization is calling on mandatory post-harvest treatment of all oysters harvested in the Gulf of Mexico. Probably the greatest threat to the industry is population growth along the watersheds of the Apalachicola Bay estuarine basin. There is no denying that with population growth comes increased pollution in the form of storm-water runoff, leaking sewage, and increased nitrogen run-off from both residentia l fertilizing and agricultural operations. Increases in pollu tion will close harvesting wate rs, either temporarily, or permanently. If oyster beds die, they signa l the eventual demise of the commercial and recreational fishing in those same waters be cause, as an indicator species, oysters are among the most vulnerable to pollution. It mi ght take decades, but first go the oysters, 213 Martina interview. 93

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then the fish, and in due course, recreati onal swimming. It is onl y with a cooperative commitment on the part of government planners and permiters to adhere to smart growth policies that take into consideration the health of local waterways and the Gulf of Mexico, to be sensitive to th e generational traditions of the local seafood industry, and to work with experts within the Florida depart ments of Natural Resources and Conservation and Agriculture and Consumer Services and Fish and Wildlife that the Florida seafood industry may be sustained. Given more time, I would have liked to explore the labor history of the industry, especially the work of women and children in the industry. Another topic that deserves more attention is the complexity of multip le layers of regula tion with which seafood businesses have to comply. They cover everything from sanitation to workers compensation and the legal convolutions are sometimes mind-boggling for the lay business-owner. Finally, the subject of culinar y tourism in Florida is rich in potential. To investigate our association of food and its connection to a sense of a place, in all its perceived dimensions could be a fascinating re search journey. Perhap s others will follow these lines of research with enthusiasm, and a ppetite! Until then, I will continue to enjoy my post-harvest treated oysters, but always demanding that they be of Apalachicola origin. 94

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References Newspapers Apalachicola Advertiser Atlanta Journal Constitution Florida Times Union New York Times St. Petersburg Times Sarasota Herald Tribune Tampa Tribune Articles and Books Adams, Dennis. Tabby, The Concrete of the Low Country. the Beaufort, South Carolina, Public Library. Accessed at American Heritage, the Magazine of History. The American Heritage Cookbook and Illustrated History of American Eating and Drinking American Heritage Publishing Co., Inc., 1964. Ameripure Oysters. Accessed at Andrews, L., B/ Posadas, and M. Jahncke. Oyster irradiation: Pat hogenic vibrio response and consumer difference testing. Accessed at http://sst.ifas.ufl. edu/26thAnn/file35.pdf Apalachicola Bay Chamber of Commerce website. Accessed at Bocce Brew. Bocce Court Design a nd Installation. Accessed at Callaway, E.E. The Land of the Apalach. Literary Florida April 1948. Chapel, George. A Brief History of the Apalachicola Area, accessed at CNN News Online. CSPI: Seafood, Eggs Biggest Causes of Food Poisoning in the US, 7 August 2000. Commercial Oyster Postharvest Pr ocessing Systems. Accessed at 95

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Cook, Joseph J. The Changeable World of the Oyster New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1974. Dresner, Simon. The Principles of Sustainability. London: Earthscan Publications Ltd., 2002. Edge, John T. Local Flavor: The Oysters of Apalachicola. SweetTea Journal. Fall/Winter, 2006, p. 58-60. Egerton, John. Southern Food: At Home, on the Road, in History New York: Alfred A. Knopf. Inc.: Borzoi Book, 1987. Eidse, Faith. (Ed.). Voices of the Apalachicola. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2006. Evans, Amy. Floridas Forgotten Coast: Life on the Apalachicola Bay, Oral Histories, Southern Foodways Alliance accessed at tary/oh/floridaforgottoncoast/inde x.shtml Fernandez-Armesto, Felipe. Near a Thousand Tables: A History of Food New York: Simon & Schusters The Free Press, 2002. Gastroenteritis, Emedicine from WebMD accessed at Gulf Oyster Industry Council Criti cal Analysis of the report Federal Oversight of Shellfish Safety Needs U.S. General A ccounting Office Report GAO-01-702 July 2001. Accessed at Harlow, Jay. Oysters: Grand Crus on the Half Shell, Sallys Place website, columns/harlow/oysters.htm Hedeen, Robert A. The Oyster: The life and lore of the celebrated bivalve. Centreville, MD: Tidewater Publishers, 1986 Ingersoll, E. The Oyster Indus try. In G. Brown Goode, (Ed.). The History and Present Condition of the Fishery Industries Washington, D.C.: U.S. Gov. Print. Off., 1881. Jacobsen, Rowan. A Geography of Oysters: The Connoisseurs guide to Oyster Eating in North America New York: Bloomsbury, 2008 96

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MacKenzie, Jr., Clyde E. History of Oy stering in the United States and Canada, Featuring Eight Greatest Oyster Estuaries. Marine Fisheries Review 58(4), 1996, p. 1-87. Marsh, Jesse. Eastern Oyster-Final Repor t, Southeast Region, Seafood Watch, Seafood Report, April 21, 2004, Monterey Bay Aquarium, atch/content/media/MBA_SeafoodWatch _EasternOysterReport.pdf McClaine, A.J. The Encyclopedia of Fish Cookery. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1977. McCarthy, Kevin. Apalachicola Bay. Sarasota, FL: Pineapple Press, 2004. McDonnell, S., et al. Failure of cooking to prevent shellfish-associated viral gastroenteritis. Archives of Internal Medicine .1997, Jan. 13: 157(1):111-6. Nowak, W. The marketing of shellfish London: Fishing News (Books) Ltd., 1970. Perry, Mac. Sacred Lands Education and Preservation website, Reardon, Joan. Oysters, A Culinary Celebration. Guildford, CT: The Lyons Press, 2004. Rogers, William Warren. Outposts on the Gulf : Saint George Island & Apalachicola from Early Exploration to World War II. Pensacola: University of West Florida Press, 1986. Safe Oysters website. Accessed at Schofield, Arthur C. Yesterdays Bradenton, Miami: E.A. Seeman Publishing, Inc., 1975. Sickels-Taves, Laura. The Care and Pr eservation of Tabby, The Henry Ford Museum website, arch/caring/tabby.aspx Spillane, Edward. "Franois-Xavier Charlevoix." The Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 3. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. Accessed at Stensson, Annika and Mike Donohue. Healt hy Kids Meals, Local Produce, Mini Desserts Among Hottest Menu Trends for 1009, According to National Restaurant Association Research. Press Release, National Restaurant Association, 9 December 2008. Accessed at Stott, Rebecca. Oyster. London: Reaktion Books Ltd, 2004. 97

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Sunshine, Sylvia (1880). Petals Plucked from Sunny Climes. Gainesville: UP of Florida, 1976. Tamplin, M., R. Hammond, P. Gulig, R. Baker. 2001. Vibrio vulnificus a hidden risk in raw oysters (video). A clinician's guide to V. vulnificus infection and treatment. Quote accessed at Toussaint-Samat, Maguelonne. 1987. A History of Food. Translated by Anthea Bell. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 1992. Townsend, Frederick J. Wildlife in Florida London: Hurst & Blackett, 1875. Walsh, Robb. Sex Death & Oysters: A Half-Shell Lovers World Tour. Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint, 2009. Widmer, Randolph M. The Evolution of the Calusa: A Nonagricultural Chiefdom on the Southwest Florida Coast. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1988. Willoughby, Lynn. Apalachicola Aweigh: Shippi ng and Seamen at Floridas Premier Cotton Port, The Florida Historical Quarterly, 69(2), Oct. 1990, 178-194. World Commission on Environment and Development. Our Common Future. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987 Government Documents and Webpages Arnold, W. and Berrigan, M. A Summary of the Oyster (Crasso strea virginica) Fishery in Florida: A Report to the Di vision of Marine Fisheries, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission January, 2002. Accessed at ations/publicationinfo.asp?id=43908 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed at ce/cholera_vibrio_s urveillance.html Division of Aquaculture, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Accessed at _____. Accessed at /publications/VVriskreduction.pdf Eastern Oyster Biological Review Team. 2007. Status review of the eastern oyster ( Crassostrea virginica ). Report to the National Marine Fisheries Service, Northeast Regional Office. 16 February 2007. 105 pp. Florida Department of Agriculture. Canning in Florida. Tallahassee: State of Florida, 1942. 98

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Florida Department of Agriculture an d Consumer Services. Accessed at ting_oysters.htm ect/norwalk.html and Florida Department of Health. Communicable Disease Frequency Reports. Accessed at Florida Department of Health, Bureau of Community Health/Aquatic Toxins, Accessed at ent/community/aquatic/redtide.htm Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Accessed at Florida Fish and Wildlife Institute webs ite, Eastern Oyster. Accessed at ures/viewarticle.asp?id=4825 Florida Seafood, FDACS. Accessed at Heil, David. Bronson Announces Re-opening of Shellfish Areas, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Press Release, 23 November 2005. National Ocean and Aeronautic Administrati on (NOAA) Fisheries: O ffice of Science and Technology, Fisheries of the United States-2008 Accessed at Otwell, W., F. Lawlor III, et al. Buy ing Seafood for Retail. Sea Grant Extension Bulletin SGEB-9, November 1985. Gainesville: Florida Sea Grant Extension Program, University of Florida. Paradise, Viola. Child Labor and the Work of Mothers in Oyster and Shrimp Canning Communities on the Gulf Coast. Childrens Bureau, U.S. Department of Labor. Washington: Government printing Office, 1922. Parker, K. FWC takes on illegal oyster harvesters. Florid a Fish and Wildlife Commission Press Release, 6 December 2005. Smeltz, A. The Oyster-Bars of the West Coast of Florida: Their Depletion and Restoration. In Bulletin of the United States Fish Commission, 1898. Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office. U.S. Department of Agriculture Fa cts Book 2001-2002, Chapter 2,. Accessed at U.S. Department of Health and Human Serv ices, Public Health Administration, Food and Drug Administration. National Shellfish Sanitation Program Manual of 99

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Operations, ISSC, Part 1 and II. Washington, D.C.: Food and Drug Administration, Shellfish Sanitation Branch, 1990. U.S. Department of Health and Human Serv ices, Public Health Administration, Food and Drug Administration. National Shellfish Sanitation Program Manual of Operations, ISSC, Part 1 and II. Washington, D.C.: Food and Drug Administration, Shellfish Sanitation Branch, 2003. Interviews Ankeney, David. Representative, Bar Harbor Seafood. Telephone interv iew by author in Bailey, Cristal. Personal interview by author on 24 September 2008 in Eastpoint, Florida. Notes and recording. Begos, Kevin. Executive Director, Frankl in County Seafood and Oyster Workers Association. Tele phone interview on Garrido, Victor. Email correspondence. 19 August 2009. Grove, Anita, Executive Director, Apalach icola Chamber of Commerce. Telephone interview by author on 25 August 2009. Notes. Heil, David. Assistant Di rector, Division of Aquacultu re, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Persona l interview by author in Tallahassee, Florida, on 13 September 2009. Notes. Kile, Monica Rowland. Personal interview by au thor in St. Petersbu rg, Florida on 3 June 2009. Notes. Richards, Robert. Owner of the former Seabreeze Restaurant in Tampa. Telephone interview by author in August 2007. Notes. Ward, Martha Pearl. Personal interview by author in Apalachicola, Florida, on 25 September 2008. Notes and recording. Ward, Tommy. Personal interview by author on 23 September 2008 at Thirteen Mile Oyster Company in Apalachicola, Florida. Notes. 100

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Appendices 101

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Appendix A Source: Florida Division of Aquaculture Shellfish Management Information for Apalachicola Bay, #16. Accessed at http://www.floridaaquaculture .com/SEASmaplinks/16.htm 102

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Appendix B 103

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Appendix B continued 104

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Wakeman, Diane Marie.
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Workin' from cain to cain't :
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by Diane Marie Wakeman.
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ABSTRACT: Oyster tongers are a cultural icon of Florida's maritime heritage and geography. Challenged for generations by the vagaries of weather, including catastrophic storms and years-long droughts, and economic uncertainties this maritime heritage is fading fast. While Florida's north and west coasts produce 90 percent of the Florida oyster harvest and ten percent of oysters consumed in the United States, the industry is at risk today for reasons including a declining demand for Florida oysters because of health concerns; water pollution; population growth and its accompanying development of condominiums, gated communities, and retail shopping centers; and declining interest in the hard work of oystering as a livelihood. This work investigates those challenges to Florida's Gulf Coast oyster industry through the lens of a twenty-first century consumer. I examine why the U.S.Department of Agriculture considers raw oysters a significant challenge to public health and how local, state, and federal government regulations, along with cooperative efforts of the seafood industry, offset the potential for oysters to convey foodborne illness to human consumers. The fact that raw oysters carry a high propensity for conveying bacterial disease makes them a unique marketing challenge, especially outside of months that have an r in them. As a subject of culinary tourism, Florida oystering maintains an iconic maritime heritage. The labor force of the commercial oystering business has ranged widely-from migrant mothers working with toddlers at their side and their school-age children forgoing education for shucking oysters at the turn of the twentieth century to a new, Hispanic work force whose strong work ethic heartily satisfies oyster processors as local interest for the hard work in the industry declines.The threat to sustainability of both the working traditions of the Apalachicola oyster folk, and the oysters themselves as a bountiful resource, grows in direct proportion to the environmental pressures fostered by rapid and poorly-regulated population growth. A legitimate question might be, given the difficulties of the work and challenges to the industry, is it worth the state's effort to help sustain this industry?
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