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More competition and shrinking supply make oyster business difficult in St. Johns County

8:27 PM, Mar 6, 2013   |    comments
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ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. -- The oyster business is getting more difficult, according to one man whose family has been in the oyster industry for decades.

It's a bumpy ride along the Intracoastal Waterway in southern St. Johns County, south of the State Road 206 bridge, but Richard Dubose and his family have been taking the ride for more than 40 years to harvest the oysters.

Finally at an oyster bar, Dubose starts to pick up clumps of oysters and then begins tapping them with his metal hand-held tool.  

"This has been beat down bad right here," Dubose said, speaking about the bed.

In the last few years, oystermen like Dubose have noticed something.

"There are just less oysters to harvest," he explained. "I can't get as many as I used to be able to get a day."

The work is backbreaking.

For every bucket-full of oysters, Dubose makes $10. It's a half bushel.

Many oystermen, including the Dubose family, used to harvest from the Summer Haven River area.

"It was a very good place, some of the best oysters around," Dubose recalled.

However, five years ago, waves broke through a beach dune during a tropical storm and sand started to fill in the Summer Haven River

"When the sand came in from the ocean," Dubose remembered, "it filled everything and killed everything!"

Now Dubose and even wildlife officers say without Summer Haven's oyster beds, people have gone to Salt Run near the St. Augustine lighthouse. But Dubose said it's now nearly picked it dry of oysters.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officers say they have given more citations in the last year to commercial and recreational oystermen who are going into restricted areas of Salt Run to harvest oysters.

Dubose and his family hope there will be fewer restricted areas because it's harder to now make a living in their family business.

"It's very hard," Dubose paused. "Very, very hard."

Dubose said more people entered the oyster business when they lost their jobs with the economy tanked. That's generated more competition.

The oyster business is a multimillion dollar industry in Florida. The panhandle produces more than 90 percent of the state's oysters, according to state figures.

Demand is high and competition is too, but it appears the supply is dwindling.

But with every bucket, Dubose and his family keep at it and head out to the water to collect the desirable oyster.

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