The following is a post from a guest writer to the NERRds! This is the first in a five part series on oyster stories of northeast Florida! Be sure to look out for those!
Kaitlyn Dietz is currently the Coastal Training Program Specialist at the GTM Research Reserve. Kaitlyn attended Georgia College and State University for her B.S. degree in Biology (2012). Afterwards, she moved to Jacksonville to pursue her M.S. degree in Marine Science from Jacksonville University (2015). Her research focused on understanding relative foraging locations of loggerhead and green sea turtles using the carbon and nitrogen stable isotopes from eggshells. She has been at the GTM Research Reserve in many capacities including being an Environmental Educator under the Education sector, the Usina Oyster Intern under the Research sector, and the Oyster Condition Assessment data analyst under the Northeast Florida Aquatic Preserves.
Fisherman knowledge is over a century old and encompasses large riverine and oceanic regions; however it has struggled to hold value in fisheries sciences (Hind, 2015). Knowledge from the fishermen, and in this case of Northeast Florida, oyster harvesters, can provide information about new practices, theories, and approaches. It can also give insight to trends regarding spawning areas, reproductive rhythms, and seasonal migrations (Hind, 2015).
The knowledge of the Northeast Florida harvesters was collected as an oral history at a “Shuck and Tell” event. The “Shuck and Tell” event accounts for the personal experiences, reflections, and personal opinions regarding the current oyster harvesting status as well as where they hope efforts are directed to sustain the oyster population.
“…we oystered all our lives…we walked every little mud gut, every little creek… I can picture how they made up.”
-Phil Cubbedge, local NE Florida oysterman
Coordinated by the Usina Oyster Intern, the GTM NERR’s first “Shuck and Tell” event was held on March 7, 2015 at the St. Augustine Boat Ramp. From the “Shuck and Tell” event, nine participants shared their stories. These participants included past harvesters, current harvesters, those who used to meet at Gene Johnson’s shack for lunch, shellfishers with leases in open beds and closed beds, shellfishers that are interested in aquaculture, and shellfishers that harvest for recreation as well as those who sell to seafood businesses and industry. Participants included Mr. Frank Usina, Mr. Phil Cubbedge, Mr. Hank Plona, Mr. Richard Thomas, Mr. William Evenden, Mr. Robt Walton, and Mr. Michael Sullivan. Several participants have lived within the St. Augustine area for their entire lives with strong family ties. To hear the voices of the oral histories, visit the video here!
This information is important to compile a complete story of the oyster harvesting within the Northeast Florida region. It is imperative that the fishermen and harvester knowledge complement the scientific datasets and studies, not replace them. As oysterman, Phil Cubbedge, stated, “…we oystered all our lives…we walked every little mud gut, every little creek… I can picture how they made up.”