Shellfish farming is a relatively new industry in Florida. During the 1990s a transition to clam farming as an alternative employment opportunity for former fishermen was facilitated through job retraining programs. Today, about 150 growers harvest 100-125 million hard clams annually on over 1,000 acres of submerged land leases located off the coasts of Levy and Dixie Counties.
The area’s warm waters and high natural productivity allow for fast growth and continuous production It is estimated that Cedar Key produces 90% or more of the state’s crop with a gross revenue impact of $35 million to the region’s economy. Diversification of crops is ongoing as growers are also culturing oysters and sunray venus clams.
Clam farming starts on land in a hatchery with production of tiny clams called “seed.” The small seed clams are grown in large shore-based tanks until they are large enough to be moved to open-water farms. Because they are benthic or bottom-dwelling, the clams live and grow protected inside polyester mesh bags staked to the seafloor. When the clams reach market size, they are harvested, cleaned, and processed for sale.
Cultured hard clams are sold as live shellstock (with both shells intact) and are shipped fresh in refrigerated conditions to markets across the nation. Their heavy shells are connected with a strong hinge, which allows clams to remain closed for days in refrigerated storage. Several sizes (littleneck, pasta) are available year-round for steaming, roasting or grilling.
LEARN MORE ABOUT SHELLFISH AQUACULTURE
FWC SEN. GEORGE KIRKPATRICK MARINE LAB
Leslie Sturmer, University of Florida/IFAS Shellfish Aquaculture Extension Program
11350 SW 153rd Ct, Cedar Key, 32625 • 352.543.5057 • Lnst@ufl.edu
NATURE COAST BIOLOGICAL STATION
552 1st St, Cedar Key, 32625 • 352.222.8585
For tours of clam farms and shore-based businesses:
CAPTAIN BOBBY WITT • CLAM FARM TOUR
Cedar Key, 32625 • 352.212.2555 (call to schedule boat trips)
Also visit these informative websites:
• Online Resource Guide for Florida Shellfish Aquaculture
• Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services
• Florida Clams