TALLAHASSEE — Nearly a year after the state first asked for help, federal officials are declaring a fishery disaster for Florida's oyster industry in the Gulf of Mexico.
The collapse of the oyster industry last year came after a drought reduced freshwater flowing into Apalachicola Bay. But state officials have also blamed the lack of freshwater flow due to increased consumption in Georgia.
The declaration by U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker sets the stage for possible help from the federal government if Congress approves it. That aid could include economic assistance to fishing businesses and communities, including oystermen.
"We understand the economic significance this historic oyster fishery has for fishermen and related businesses in the Panhandle of Florida," Pritzker said in a statement.
The announcement comes a day before both U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson are scheduled to be in Apalachicola for a field hearing by the Senate Commerce Committee.