Shell game | April 15Future of oyster productionThanks to Laura Reiley for an excellent synopsis of the current state of oyster production in Florida. The collapse of the Apalachicola oyster fishery is merely the latest example of the demise of a resource that was once thought to be infinite. To the contrary, it is estimated that 85 percent of the world’s oyster resources have now been lost. There are multiple reasons for this, including overharvesting, disease, declining water quality and altered hydrology. The oyster fisheries in Delaware Bay and Chesapeake Bay were decimated by diseases beginning in the late 1950s and never recovered.Instead, what we are witnessing in the ocean is similar to the transition from hunting and gathering to farming, which began hundreds of years ago on land. The transition from wild harvest of oysters to aquaculture to meet the increasing demand, while now fairly complete in both Delaware and Chesapeake Bays, is just beginning here in Florida. There are several advantages that shellfish aquaculture has over wild harvest. First, juvenile bivalves (seed) are produced in hatcheries under controlled conditions. One of the largest commercial hatcheries in the southeastern United States is in Manatee County. This means that juveniles can be produced on a reliable, consistent basis. It also means that species can be genetically selected for superior traits, such as faster growth and disease resistance. The development of disease-resistant lines has allowed oyster aquaculture in Delaware and Chesapeake Bays to flourish.Another innovation is the production of triploid oysters (those with three sets of chromosomes). Because triploids are effectively sterile, they grow faster and remain "fat" throughout the year. Over 80 percent of oysters now produced in Virginia are triploids. Cultured shellfish can only be grown on bottom (or in the water above bottom) leased from the state in approved shellfish harvesting waters, thus ensuring safety.Finally, shellfish aquaculture is not only environmentally sustainable but supports coastal economies and preserves working waterfronts while improving coastal water quality.The Gulf Shellfish Institute is working with industry partners on research that will help increase shellfish production to meet the growing demand here in Florida and throughout the gulf region. The benefit for consumers will be a more consistent, diverse and higher quality product that is available throughout the year.Bruce Barber, Ph.D., PalmettoThe writer is executive director of the Gulf Shellfish Institute Inc.School officers to outearn teachers | April 6Schools to start a little bit later | April 11Questionable policiesI have two pet peeves with the Pinellas County School Board. First, the Times recently detailed a decent starting salary of $43,000 for teachers in Pinellas County with a bachelor’s degree, but then not a penny raise for them until year seven! How depressing that must be to work for the same salary for the first six years. Shouldn’t each year of experience be worth something more than the previous year?Second, I see that the board grudgingly agreed to move high school starting times next year from 7:05 a.m. to 7:20 a.m. for some schools, compared to Hillsborough moving from 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. Is that any way to advocate for Pinellas students when there are so many studies showing that a later start time benefits achievement?Superintendent Michael Grego said, "The journey’s not finished." What does he mean? A journey to a more reasonable starting time, or was he just being vague and ambiguous?Brett Hayman, St. PetersburgSt. Petersburg hopes to say, ‘That’s the last straw’April 11 Include all in the discussionWhile I agree that plastic waste is an environmental issue, I caution environmental advocates who demonstrate their insensitivity as shown by the quote that "a straw is not an essential part of your daily life." Many in the disability community or elderly depend on straws for hydration. There is also the commonsense issue of consumer hygiene in food service or health care settings.I suggest that the St. Petersburg City Council start its discussions on a straw ban by broadening the diversity of its citizen participation process, as you only avoid "unintended consequences" when all voices are sitting at the table.Carolyn Rosen, Sun City CenterConstitution Revision CommissionProposal hurts public schoolsFlorida’s Constitution Revision Commission has let us down. We need to defeat an education proposal that hurts public schools and insults the voter.We are not fooled by a proposed ballot initiative that might look good in a quick read, but when closely studied reveals that it will do great damage to our neighborhood public schools and to the precious concept of local control.The ballot language puts forth two issues with popular appeal: requiring civics education and creating term limits for school board members. However, via a clever semantic back door, it also enables the creation of a Big School Board in Tallahassee as the tool for profiteering charter school enterprises.It is curious that the words "charter schools" appear nowhere in the proposal. Instead, the initiative cleverly restricts the authority of local elected officials to schools "established by" the district school board. That leaves the door open for out-of-town, state-level board approval of schools established by entities eager to monetize our children’s education. The people we elect will have no say. The actual needs of the children in our unique communities become secondary or even irrelevant.The CRC had the potential to help our public schools, a uniquely American institution. This is a monumental disappointment. We need to vote down this sad game of words.Betty Castor, TampaThe writer is a former state education commissioner and former president of the University of South Florida.