Photo: Steven Gray
Northwest Florida Roundup
Oyster ambitions: A businessman works to revive Florida's oyster industry
With Apalachicola’s oyster industry in decline, a Pensacola businessman has started an aquaculture project he hopes will help meet the demand for locally harvested shellfish.
Donnie McMahon, an insurance executive and civic leader, launched the Pensacola Bay Oyster Co. last summer, installing two oyster farms — Magnolia Bluffs Farm in Escambia Bay and a farm in Santa Rosa County’s East Bay. He says the two farms — on several acres of submerged land leased from the state — are projected to produce more than 500,000 oysters annually.
“I started this business because I want to resurrect what has been a dying industry,” he says. “The Gulf Coast has the best waters for oysters, and I wanted that Gulf taste back in our oysters.”
To grow the oysters, Mc- Mahon uses semi-submersible cages containing wire baskets where the oyster seedlings grow.
Each cage starts off with some 18,000 oyster seedlings. As they grow, the oysters are moved among the six baskets based on size for about 10 months until they’re ready for harvest.
McMahon says the demand for his oysters far outstrips his supply. “One local restaurant has approached me about supplying them 250,000 oysters a year,” he says.
McMahon says he is actively seeking public and private grants to establish a shellfish research and hatchery lab on a waterfront site in downtown Pensacola.
“What I would like to do is create a center for innovative shellfish research here in Pensacola where we could study best practices for growing and harvesting shellfish,” says Mc- Mahon. “I’m especially interested in studying the genetics of the shellfish stock we have here in northwest Florida.”
ESCAMBIA COUNTY — An explosion in a pulp digester at International Paper’s Cantonment mill earlier this year caused between $80 million and $120 million in damage. The plant north of Pensacola has since reopened.
FORT WALTON BEACH/ DESTIN — The Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport has experienced a 20% increase in passengers for the first quarter of this year. Airport executives say the trend should continue since Allegiant added 11 non-stop destinations.
GADSDEN COUNTY — The state closed Armada Ammunition after a review determined the firm failed to comply with Florida’s workers’ compensation law. Armada, which opened its 8,000-sq.-ft. manufacturing center in Greensboro in early 2016, makes smallarms ammunition.
MARIANNA — Safari Helicopter moved into a building at Marianna Airport to accommodate growth in sales of its kit helicopter products. The company says it expects to grow its workforce from nine to 20.
PACE — Dick’s Sporting Goods, Michaels and Ulta Beauty will anchor a 76,000-sq.-ft. commercial project on U.S. 90 that’s expected to be completed in spring 2018. The property is being developed by Blackwater Resources of Birmingham, Ala.
PENSACOLA — The main terminal at Pensacola International Airport has been named for the late Reubin O’Donovan Askew, a Pensacola native and two-term governor of Florida.
TALLAHASSEE — A Tallahassee insurance group — Southern Fidelity Property & Casualty, Capitol Preferred Insurance and Southern Fidelity Insurance — is expanding its operations to a three-story, 55,000-sq.-ft. building in the Bull Run Development off Thomasville Road. The group paid $7.1 million for the building.
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