Molluscs: Clams, Oysters, Scallops, and MusselsAlligators | Aquatic Plants | Crustaceans | Food Fish | Miscellaneous Species
Molluscs | Marine Ornamental | Ornamental Fish and Invertebrates
Florida is perfectly positioned as the preeminent source of environmentally sustainable and friendly, farm-raised molluscs. Estuaries on the Gulf and Atlantic coasts are rich in phytoplankton and have clean water and moderate temperatures that make for a long growing season that can yield marketable hard clams in a third of the time that northern growers experience.
Filter-feeding oysters, clams or mussels sequester significant amounts of carbon by consuming phytoplankton and absorbing dissolved organic matter. Carbon becomes a primary component of its shell and for every kilogram of live clams or oysters grown in Florida waters approximately 114 grams of carbon are removed from the water column and benthos. The Florida Sea Grant Program is investigating the carbon sequestration associated with hard clam aquaculture (shell and sediment deposition).
The Department manages 1.4 million acres spread over 38 shellfish management areas in accordance with the Model Shellfish Ordinance created and maintained by the Interstate Shellfish Sanitation Conference to insure wholesome and safe shellfish are available to national and international consumers. Florida 's principal molluscs are the hard clam and American oyster; although, several other bivalve molluscs are being tested to diversify production.
The northern hard clam is farmed to satisfy national demand for food and seed clams in three regions of the state: Big Bend, Charlotte Harbor , and Indian River Lagoon. Production of farm-raised hard clams has grown at an almost exponential rate since 1995 when public investment occurred to retrain fishers impacted by a Constitutional Amendment that limited certain fishing gear. Between 1995 and 2007 the value of hard clams tripled from $5.4 million to $15.2 million. A University of Florida 2008 economic survey found that during 2007 approximately 185 million cultured hard clams were purchased by Florida wholesale dealers, producing grower revenues of $19 million and a total economic impact of $53 million. The growing and marketing of farm-raised hard clams to wholesale dealers, restaurants, food service buyers, retail seafood shops, and direct to consumers in and outside of Florida created a total impact that includes $31.5 million in value added revenue, $25.2 million in labor income, $4.6 million in property income (rents, royalties, interest, dividends, and corporate profits), $1.6 million in indirect business taxes, and 606 jobs (full and part time).
While total sales have grown rapidly, per unit revenue and total farm profitability have declined. To offset a trend of low prices that will be acerbated by increased production, clam farmers are seeking public sector investment in efforts to: reduce mortality during culture, continue and improve a pilot crop insurance program managed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, market hard clams to Florida's 18 million residents and 80 million seasonal visitors, diversify production with new species, reduce seed costs, and increase shelf life through improved handling and temperature management. The vehicles to drive these initiatives has been laid with increased cooperation amongst research institutions and state agencies that have focused on clam production needs at the University of Florida's Shellfish Aquaculture Research and Education Facility on Cedar Key ( http://shellfish.ifas.ufl.edu/ ).
Statewide shellfish extension specialist, scientists from the University of Florida , and the private sector are investigating the potential to broaden Florida 's mollusc product line by spawning, culturing, harvesting, handling, and marketing a variety of alternative species. Several molluscs (blood and ponderous arks and sun ray venus clam) have proven market value and demand but little is known about their production characteristics. Market and production work are needed for a variety of candidates: southern surf clam, angel wing clam, pen clam, queen conch, Florida fighting conch and mussels. They are also determining optimal productivity of current aquaculture lease areas by testing planting rates and determining total carrying capacity. The University of Florida and the Department have cooperatively posted real-time weather and water quality characteristics to the Division of Aquaculture web site for farmers to make on-the-spot planting, harvesting and crop maintenance decisions.
Another valuable shellfish is the American oyster that is cultured on over 500 acres of state owned submerged lands leases. These leases, located in Apalachicola Bay , yield a very flavorful oyster that is served on the half-shell to discerning oyster connoisseurs throughout the United States . Low market prices for wild-harvested oysters have limited growth in culturing oysters. Recently consumer interest in fresh oysters has increased and may reignite efforts to investigate the production of sterile, triploid oysters. A triploid oyster does not expend energy on summer reproduction and yields a full-meated product all year long.
The sophisticated production and marketing infrastructure developed to support the hard clam industry provides a model and avenue for the immediate marketing of alternative mollusc species and should greatly shorten the time required to move a species from an experimental stage to the consumer. In a span of 20 years, the cultured hard clam has evolved from the interest of a few farmers to Florida 's role as the prominent source of U.S. farm raised hard clams. The opportunity and potential to repeat this success for one or more molluscs is entirely possible if sufficient public investment is made into the basic production and marketing work to prove farm and market level feasibility and profitability.