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Supreme Court Rules Georgia Didn’t Kill Florida’s Oyster Industry

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In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court ruled Thursday that Georgia is not responsible for damaging Florida’s oyster industry, saying that Florida failed to adequately prove its case.

Florida claimed that Georgia uses too much of the water that flows from Atlanta to the Gulf of Mexico, arguing that overconsumption led to the decline in Florida’s oyster industry.

Justice Amy Coney Barrett wrote the court’s opinion.

“Considering the record as a whole, Florida has not shown that it is ‘highly probable’ that Georgia’s alleged overconsumption played more than a trivial role in the collapse of Florida’s oyster fisheries,” Barrett wrote.

Barrett’s opinion cautioned that the Supreme Court was not equipped to determine what caused the decline in oysters in Florida’s Apalachicola Bay.

“Of course, the precise causes of the Bay’s oyster collapse remain a subject of ongoing scientific debate. As judges, we lack the expertise to settle that debate and do not purport to do so here,” Barrett wrote.

She noted that, despite the ruling in its favor, “Georgia has an obligation to make reasonable use of Basin waters in order to help conserve that increasingly scarce resource.”

This the second time Florida’s case has been rejected by the Supreme Court in the last three years.

In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court ruled Thursday that Georgia is not responsible for damaging Florida’s oyster industry, saying that Florida failed to adequately prove its case.
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For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Georgia officials called the decision a vindication of their water management.

“Today the Supreme Court of the United States, in a unanimous decision, affirmed what we have long known to be true: Georgia’s water use has been fair and reasonable,” state Attorney General Chris Carr said.

The case involved the Flint and Chattahoochee rivers in Georgia, which join to form the Apalachicola River at the Florida line.

Florida had sought a court order forcing Georgia to limit its use of water from the Flint. When the justices first heard the dispute three years ago, Florida also was claiming that the Atlanta area’s consumption of water from the Chattahoochee River played a big role in the reduced flows in Florida, but that claim fell out of the case by the time it reached the court again in February.

Last year, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission voted unanimously to shut down oyster harvesting in Apalachicola Bay through the end of 2025 because of a dwindling oyster population.

Florida’s lawsuit against Georgia was filed in 2013 directly in the Supreme Court, which appointed a special master to evaluate the case. The special master initially recommended that Georgia should prevail.

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