Indian Pass oyster farmer eyes expansion

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Indian Pass is about to become home to the first oyster house built in the county in several years, following the closure over the last several decades of several Forgotten Coast facilities serving the dwindling wild-caught harvest.

Scott Morrison, who operates Indian Lagoon Oyster Corporation, the only operating oyster aquaculture farm in Gulf County, is in talks with the Walker and McNeill families to secure property on the northwest side of the Indian Pass Campground.

The property, which years ago was the longtime site of a working oyster house, is zoned mixed use, so if Morrison is successful in negotiating a purchase, there would likely be little grounds for opposition to the creation of a small facility to process the growing volume of oysters raised on his 10-acre lease in Indian Lagoon.

Morrison’s original plan, to locate the facility on an eight-acre lot on Neptune Street, met with some opposition from neighbors, and so the entrepreneur has put his application on hold as he pursues his current plans.

Morrison ended up dividing the Neptune Street lot in half, and pursuing his facility on the half that he owns with Ralph Rish. He submitted a land use application to planning and zoning, and while it received tentative approval, it has since been tabled as he pursues other options.

Port St. Joe attorney Pat Floyd, representing some of the neighbors, spoke out at last month’s county commission meeting on behalf of his clients’ opposition, and in support of the relocation.

County Administrator Michael Hammond cautioned him not to address details of the tabled proposal, since it was not on the agenda, and Floyd stuck to his overall position, as did another woman who voiced her concern about the creation of an oyster house on Indian Pass.

“They are trying to put it into the middle of a residential neighborhood on Indian Lagoon,” Floyd said of the Neptune Street proposal. “We don’t want them to have an enclave. It’s too much to ask for something that’s a convenience to you but would be a sacrifice and danger to the entire residential community.

“We did not want to have it there. It would be an entry point to begin to spread, and could be a springboard for leapfrogging,” Floyd said. “The campground is already mixed residential commercial and this would be more suited for it.”

The attorney told commissioners Morrison has been looking for options in Franklin County, perhaps at Two Mile or 13 Mile, before settling on the Indian Pass Campground location.

In a telephone interview, Morrison cautioned that while both parties are moving forward with the present plans, negotiations are continuing and the deal has not been completed.

At his current lease site, adjacent to a similar one handled by the Ward family’s 13-Mile operation, Morrison employs one full-time person and two part-time people, and farms diploid oysters, as opposed to triploid which are sterile. This, he said, means that his production also works to enhance the productivity of wild-caught oysters that people may go hogging for nearby in the placid lagoon.

“They put the spat back into all the lagoon,” he said. “They do a lot to populate those oysters.” 

He said his lease of the water column meant that he planted 750,000 oysters in October, in keeping with the required minimum of 70,000 per acre. He has since been harvesting and selling them himself, since his company has certification as a shell stock shipper.

“We can wash, grade, cool, pack and sell retail and wholesale,” Morrison said. “We have got to have a land-based operation to take it to the next stage.”

He said at his house on Seminole Drive has been handling about 5,000 oysters a week. “If we go to 20,000, we need a bigger place,” he said.

“Right now I have 1.2 million oysters in the water,” Morrison said.

His branded Indian Lagoon oysters has been selling retail at the Salt Air farmers market, at the Uptown raw bar in Port St. Joe and in Walton County at Stinky’s Fish Camp on 30A. He also distributes regionally through Evans Seafood.

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