Oyster Calamity In Cedar Key
Published October 24th, 2012
CEDAR KEY - Blue skies, clear water and seafood define Cedar Key. Danny Beckham, who has been in the oyster business all his life, represents just that. "I think it's something that you're born with, when you're around the water… It's hard to leave it," Danny tells me.
But this picturesque view of the peaceful seafood town on the west coast of Florida, doesn't show the big picture. For four generations the Beckhams have been harvesting oysters, but they've never encountered a drastic downturn such as this one. They're only catching 25 percent of the oysters they caught last year. "The oysters in my generation, that I've seen, have never done what they're doing now. I've seen oysters die in certain areas but not down the whole west coast," Danny says.
From here in Cedar Key all the way to Apalachicola, oysters are being affected. The reason behind it? Well, experts say the high levels of salt in the water and the high temperatures may have something to do with it. Mark Berrigan with the Florida Department of Agriculture says, "We've been in an extended drought period, for probably two years preceding this summer and then with tropical storm Debby, we've had an extreme amount of rainfall in the coastal area."
Jerald Beckham, Danny's cousin, says oysters are having a difficult time acclimating to the weather's extreme changes. "It's the time of year when oysters are supposed to be spawning and the little oysters are supposed to be growing everywhere for next years crop and we're not seeing that," he tells me.
Ricky Cooke, the president of the local Oystermen's Association, tries to stay positive. "The few oysters that live, they are going to be very fat this year and very good tasting due that they aren't fighting for food," Cooke says.
Danny says it's hard to depend on oystering. "Relying on oysters now for the family is not possible. We keep hoping for help from the state, whether they will or will not I don't know… But I know we need their help," says Danny.
Now, not all oysters are dead. The Beckhams hope the state will let them move the live oysters from conditionally restricted areas to zones where they can harvest them. Jerald says, "We would like to re-lay from out of those areas out onto these open areas and let them purify so we could harvest."
It's been more than a month since Governor Rick Scott asked congress for federal aid. "It's disappointing. I mean I am asking the federal government, we've called them, we've sent them letters, we've asked them for their assistance… They haven't done their job, I don't understand it. But I think that's a legit basis because we don't know what's going to happen because of all the politics," Governor Scott tells me.
The Beckhams remain hopeful for the day congress or mother nature will finally move. Danny tells me, "I don't know, I won't ever let it go. This is my inheritance, this is what father and my grandfather left us."
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