Updated 5 yearss ago
SEAFOOD SLAM: "That's my life you're looking at," says Eastpoint oysterman and shrimper Eugene Webb. While many in the seafood business are selling out to developers after being hammered by a series of hurricanes, a flood of imports and a nasty case of red tide, Webb hopes to rebuild.
In July, after Hurricane Dennis slammed into Florida's oystering communities along Apalachicola Bay, real estate speculators snapped up nine demolished seafood packinghouses along U.S. Highway 98 in Eastpoint. Longtime fishing families in the region say they were besieged by developers and lawyers ready to buy from hurricane-weary watermen.
The specter of condominiums, shops and fancy boat slips in two of Florida's last authentic fishing villages, Eastpoint and nearby Apalachicola, illustrates a seafood industry in the sort of crisis it has not seen since Florida's voters passed a constitutional amendment to ban marine net fishing in state waters in 1994.
The state's shrimp industry already was in a slump because of cheap foreign imports flooding the U.S. market. Foreign companies have captured 88% of the total U.S. market for shrimp, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service.
The widespread red tides of 2005 had weakened the industry, shuttering oyster and clam harvesting for weeks at a time. Rising fuel prices were another punch. The hurricanes dealt the final blow. In north Florida, Dennis flattened tin-roofed packinghouses and spoiled thousands of pounds of fresh seafood. In south Florida, Wilma flooded fish houses, destroyed boats and washed away more than half a million stone-crab traps at peak season, as well as up to 200,000 spiny lobster traps.
"We really are in survival mode," says Bob Jones, executive director of the Southeastern Fisheries Association. "Whoever can get through this year and next year will be the toughest in the industry. If they can make it through these two years, than they'll be in business as long as they want to be."
Gregg Harshman, owner of CitraPac in Sebring, hopes to stem the decline in fresh fruit sales by marketing his CitrusPearls health treats to soccer moms. The 100% juice and pulp product is cryogenically frozen then packed into a 4-ounce container for munching with a spoon or pressed into a popsicle.
HURRICANE FACTOR: The agricultural sector hardest hit by Hurricane Wilma was Florida's sugar industry. Early damage estimates exceed $400 million. That's more than the damage to Big Sugar from all the 2004 hurricanes combined. Hurricane Wilma's winds twisted and flattened sugar cane and caused major structural damage to ware-houses, refineries and equipment. The storm also dealt a blow to citrus growers in south Florida.Crop losses alone totaled $180 million, or about 17% of the state's entire citrus harvest for the current season.
Person to Watch
Owner, Kerry's Bromeliad Nursery, Homestead
Kerry Herndon, owner of Kerry's Bromeliad Nursery in Homestead and Apopka, runs the largest potted orchid production complex in North America, growing more than 5 million orchids a year. Herndon, a native of Homestead, started growing plants in his grandparents' back yard in high school to make money. Now, he is famous for mass marketing orchids -- in places like grocery stores -- and also for numerous best-management practices for potted-plant production, like robotic transport and transplanting, rainwater recycling, reverse-osmosis water treatment and environmental cooling chambers for year-round orchid production.