Residents of Florida's Panhandle are still assessing damage 48 hours after Hurricane Michael made landfall. Homes have been destroyed, trees are down and roads are still impassable, and in Apalachicola, there's another concern: oysters.
The area known as one of the country's most important oyster fisheries has been devastated in recent years by water diversion, climate change and oil spills. Now, the nascent aquaculture industry — farmed oysters — are also threatened.
Here & Now's Robin Young checks in with fifth-generation oysterman T.J. Ward who runs an aquaculture business in Apalachicola.
On how the Apalachicola community fared the storm
“Well, for the circumstances, I'm doing fine. My family's good, and all our friends and neighbors are all well too.
“The damage in Apalachicola is the worst I've ever seen, and locals that are older than me and been through more hurricanes haven't seen it this bad. Most power lines are down all over. You know, the surge was really, really bad on the riverfront.”
"At this time of year ... you'd have up to 500 boats every day on the bay. Now you have six, and that's just happened in the past 10 years. Complete devastation."T.J. Ward
On the operations of his family's business, and the state of it after the storm
“We do wholesale seafood, as far as shrimp, and we do wholesale oysters, and we have a seafood market. But our oysters are sold to mainly a restaurant down the street from our oyster plant, called Indian Pass Raw Bar, which, the last I heard, took on 6 feet of water inside the restaurant. I mean, it took a hard hit from what I see here.
“Where our homes are, three miles off the coast, all the damage that's been done — who knows what our oyster plant is going to look like.
“There's small oysters, which we call spat, and the way we harvest oysters in Apalachicola Bay wild harvest, we use tongs, which are lightweight. There used to be at this time of year — when the weather is not like it is, obviously — you'd have up to 500 boats every day on the bay. Now you have six, and that's just happened in the past 10 years. Complete devastation.”
On whether he thinks Hurricane Michael destroyed Apalachicola's oyster industry for good
“Well, the wild harvest has [been dealt] a death blow, but for our company, which is pretty much only been dealing with aquaculture oysters the past, I'd say, almost three years now, dependent on what's left, if there's nothing else, then our small business is done for at least a year or two.
“I'd have to start all over again from the tiny spat, which we get that's like grains of sand when we start raising these oysters, so it takes at least a year … Also the infrastructure on our oyster leases, who knows. I mean, it might take another half a year before we could even get that set up for the spat.”
"The pros of living where we live — which is a great life on the water — and making a living off of the water, outweighs times like this, because we always come back just as strong."T.J. Ward
On the future of his family's business and the community
“First off, I'm just glad that my family's OK after this storm, and my friends and neighbors.
“Every storm, you learn how to adapt more. The pros of living where we live — which is a great life on the water — and making a living off of the water, outweighs times like this, because we always come back just as strong. I mean, we have no other choice. We're not going to leave here, and our plans are not to stop doing what we do, our way of life. And that goes for everybody in this community.”
This segment aired on October 12, 2018.