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Oyster, clam farmers suffer after Hurricane Michael shuts down harvest

By Chaffin Mitchell, AccuWeather staff writer
October 17, 2018, 12:07:38 PM EDT

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Residents of Florida's Panhandle and Big Bend are still picking up the pieces following Hurricane Michael's historic rampage. Homes have been flattened to the ground, debris litters the area, trees are uprooted and businesses are feeling Michael's hit.

Peak oyster season is right around the corner, starting in November; however, the recent destruction of Hurricane Michael is impacting aquaculture farms in Florida.

Shellfish growers are working diligently to recover gear and assess damages in the Panhandle and Big Bend areas.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission ordered all farms to stop harvesting on Oct. 9 before Michael struck.

Supreme Court Water War

John Stokes, center, culls Apalachicola oysters while his two sons Ryan, left, and Wesley Stokes tong oysters from the bottom of Apalachicola Bay. (AP Photo/Mark Wallheiser, File)


The lab that conducts the water clarity tests that are required for aquaculture farmers is located in Apalachicola which was also hammered by the historic hurricane.

(REUTERS/Carlo Allegri)

A bedroom of a destroyed house is pictured following Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach, Florida, U.S., October 11, 2018.

(REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman)

People inspect a Waffle House damaged by Hurricane Michael in Callaway, Florida, U.S. October 11, 2018.

Jonathan Bachman

A McDonald's sign damaged by Hurricane Michael is pictured in Panama City Beach, Florida, U.S. October 10, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

(Photo/ Brandon Clement)

A fighter jet is seen upside down after Hurricane Michael.

(REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman)

An American flag flies amongst rubble left in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach, Florida, U.S. October 11, 2018.

(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

People walk amidst destruction on the main street of Mexico Beach, Fla., in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael on Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018.

(Photo/ Brandon Clement)

Hurricane Michael caused extensive damage to homes and boats in Florida. (Photo/ Brandon Clement)

(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

A storm chaser climbs into his vehicle during the eye of Hurricane Michael to retrieve equipment after a hotel canopy collapsed in Panama City Beach, Fla., Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018.

(Photo/ Brandon Clement)

Extensive damage of an RV lot can be seen from above after Hurricane Michael struck Florida.

(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Kaylee O'Brian weeps inside her home after several trees fell on it during Hurricane Michael in Panama City, Fla., Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018.

(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

A woman checks on her vehicle as Hurricane Michael passes through, after the hotel canopy had just collapsed, in Panama City Beach, Fla., Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018.

(Photo/ Brandon Clement)

Hurricane Michael caused extensive damage to buildings and property.

(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Hotel employees look at a canopy that just collapsed, as Hurricane Michael passes through in Panama City Beach, Fla., Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018.

(Photo/ Brandon Clement)

Catastophic destruction of homes can be seen from above after Hurricane Michael.

(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

People cut away a tree that'll on a vehicle in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael in Panama City, Fla., Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018.

(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Hurricane Michael caused widespread damage across Florida, including these rail cars in Panama City Beach.

(Photo/ Brandon Clement)

Catastrophic damage can be seen above Mexico Beach, Florida, after Hurricane Michael.

(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Shredded trees, derailed train cars and a sunken trailer are seen in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael in Panama City, Fla., Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018.

(Photo/Tallahassee Police)

A large tree brought down power lines in Tallahassee, Florida, on Wednesday.

(Photo/ Brandon Clement)

A bulldozer begins the massive cleanup effort after Hurricane Michael.

(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Firefighter Austin Schlarb performs a door to door search in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach, Fla., Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018.

(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Rescue personnel perform a search in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach, Fla., Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018.

(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

A boat sits amidst debris in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach, Fla., Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018.

Destruction is seen in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach, Fla., Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018.

(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Colin Hunt/Handout via REUTERS

Damaged and destroyed buildings are seen in an aerial photograph, taken during a post-Hurricane Michael flight by a U.S. Coast Guard MH-65 helicopter over Mexico Beach, Florida.

(AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

Homes destroyed by Hurricane Michael are shown in this aerial photo Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018, in Mexico Beach, Fla.

(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Rescue personnel search amidst debris in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach, Fla., Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018.

(Photo/ International Space Station)

The International Space Station captured this image of Hurricane Michael as it passed by overhead.

(Photo/ International Space Station)

Hurricane Michael was one of the most intense storms on record.

(Photo/ International Space Station)

Michael also had some of the highest winds on record. The ISS captured the eye as it orbited overhead.

(Photo/ Walton County Sheriff Department)

A sailboat is pummeled by Hurricane Michael at Pilcher Park.

(AP Photo/Russ Bynum)

Rex Buzzett, far left, his son Josh Buzzett and neighbor Hilda Duren stand outside the Buzzett’s home, Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018, that was gutted by a storm surge in Port St. Joe, Fla.

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According to CNBC, agricultural damage from Hurricane Michael as a whole is forecast to top $1.3 billion.

Southern Cross Sea Farm in Cedar Key, Florida, said for the most part everything looks okay; however, it is hard for them to tell the full extent until they harvest in one year.

Not only did Hurricane Michael impact harvesting, the storm also postponed the 2018 Panacea Oyster Festival.


Florida wasn't the only area that was ordered to stop harvesting. Shellfish harvesting beds closed due to Michael in Beaufort County, South Carolina, only days after being reopened following Hurricane Florence.

The Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) closed the Wallace Creek shellfish harvesting beds on Oct. 12 due to the possibility of bacteria in the water.

"This closure affects all shellfish harvesting in the Conditional Management Area of Wallace Creek," Manager of DHEC's Shellfish Sanitation Section Mike Pearson said.

According to Pearson, the harvesting area will reopen when water quality data indicate that bacteria levels are once again suitable for shellfish harvesting.

"Having seen firsthand some of the catastrophic damage from Hurricane Michael, I know that farmers will need all the help they can get to recover," Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said.

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One of the few homes still standing on Mexico Beach after Hurricane Michael
Before-and-after images capture catastrophic destruction of Michael in Mexico Beach, Florida

"In addition to crop insurance, USDA has a variety of programs to assist producers," Perdue said.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently launched a disaster assistance discovery tool through the website Farmers.gov that walks producers through five questions to help them identify personalized results of which USDA disaster assistance programs can help them recover after a natural disaster.

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