TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida's oyster industry is struggling to survive as it battles drought, less fresh water in estuaries and overharvesting.
But now, a new farming technique offers a glimmer of hope.
Members of the Florida Cabinet have approved new aquaculture leases for an oyster farming business that's using an innovative new technique to grow oysters.
The leases will allow Leo Lovel's Spring Creek Oyster Company to grow oysters in floating cages near the water's surface. Current law requires the cages to be within six inches of the sea floor.
Floating cages are proving very successful around the world. Oysters grow faster because there are more nutrients in the top two feet of the water.
"Floating cages is how Spain and Italy, Australia are growing their animals. It's how they're doing it on the West coast, Canada, Massachusetts and Maine. This is what they're doing and we're very excited," said Lovel.
Lovel is using this new farming technique in Alligator Harbor in Franklin County. He says it produces very salty oysters that are snow-white.
Lovel believes the oyster is just one of dozens of sea animals that can be grown successfully with this method. He believes it will create an entirely new aquaculture industry in coastal counties across Florida.
"I think this is the future ... we can see hundreds of new jobs over the next few years come out of this."
Lovel said he feels like a pioneer as he explores a new technique that could help save Florida's seafood industry.
"I think we feel kind of like Christopher Columbus did when he went in front of the king and his court and said, 'Can we sail off and discover America.' You know what I'm talking about because now the hard work starts."
Florida is closely watching the enterprise to see if the technique can be used elsewhere around the state.
Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said using innovations is the story of agriculture and aquaculture in Florida. He calls it an opportunity for Florida to catch up in aquaculture.
"This is one example of some pretty neat technology and some neat new techniques that are going to allow us to keep these jobs and continue to keep the seafood industry in Florida."