Wakulla County Commissioner Jerry Moore, who had to stop eating the oysters for fear of leaving none for others, said the Lovels' undertaking has "unbelievable possibilities."
"We don't do a lot of things until we get desperate," Moore said. "This is a new day if this system works. It's a way for us to produce a continuous supply of great oysters."
The Lovels are optimistic, but are keeping their heads, as are state aquaculture officials.
"These things look attractive now because the natural resource is in trouble," Knickerbocker said. "It might work great this year and next year, and the third year some condition might change and it could be a total bust."
But if anyone can make a go of it, Knickerbocker said, the Lovels can. The family is well respected, has a track record of seafood success and can showcase their product at their renowned restaurant. Their reverence for the North Florida Gulf Coast runs deep, as evidenced in Leo Lovel's folksy collection of outdoors essays, "Spring Creek Chronicles."
Leo said he and his sons are constantly reminding themselves that what they are doing now is farming — and it's a risky business.
"There can always be something that throws a monkey wrench into to," he said. "We are feeling our way."
The excitement, however, is contagious. The area's seafood industry has been depressed since the gill-net ban 20 years ago, and the recent wild oyster decline has dealt a further blow. While Ben Lovel said his family hopes and prays every day the oysters in Apalachicola will rebound, he believes what they've stumbled upon can help everyone and hurt no one.
"If something doesn't come along — and we think this is it — the culture and lifestyle of the seafood watermen in the bay is over," he said. "We aren't just excited about this for us, we are excited about this for the whole area. If this thing goes in the right direction, there is no way to talk about what we might be working on in five or 10 years."