Molluscan shellfish are filter feeders, taking in large quantities of water during feeding. Since these shellfish resemble the coastal waters in which they grow, harvesting can only take place in the cleanest of waters. Oysters and clams are often eaten raw or partially cooked, and the entire animal, excluding the shell, is consumed. Since only the muscle meat of bay scallops is consumed, they can be harvested outside of state shellfish harvesting areas. In Florida, national regulatory standards are followed by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS). This agency is responsible for monitoring, classifying and managing the waters to ensure shellfish harvested are safe and wholesome. There are five designated Shellfish Harvesting Areas (SHAs) in the Big Bend region (Horseshoe Beach, Suwannee Sound, Cedar Key, Waccasassa Bay, and Withlacoochee); each operates under a management plan based on either rainfall or river levels as freshwater drainage from land can introduce contaminants into adjacent coastal waters. Under these plans, FDACS can temporarily close an area for harvest before the shellfish become unsafe to consume.
To locate maps of each SHA and find out whether an area is open or closed to recreational or commercial harvest of clams and oysters, visit the FDACS Division of Aquaculture’s website:
or contact their local office in Cedar Key at 352.543.5181