Florida aquaculturists need new sources of income ahead of shutdowns
A new research project is expected to help the Florida shellfish industry, which has been affected by COVID-19 and algae blooms. The data collected will be the first of its kind in this state.
There are 720 shell leases spread across 16 coastal Florida counties, all of which were affected when the restaurants they sold to were closed during the pandemic lockdown. They have also been affected by the red tide recently.
Angela Collins, a Florida Sea Grant agent based in Manatee County, said when algae blooms are present, clams and oysters are not affected, although production is halted. Bivalves actually help filter the water during these events, but businesses suffer when the shellfish are not harvested.
“They keep growing, and they can actually grow outside of marketable size. Then when the lease reopens and the farmer is able to harvest the produce, it has grown larger than the market size does. is really economically feasible for them, ”Collins said. .
Today, thanks to a $ 100,000 grant from The Nature Conservancy, the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is teaming up with the Florida Sea Grant to find new sources of income. One of them is called a nutrient credit trading program.
“It would be a way for shellfish farmers to be paid for those ecosystem benefits that their shellfish provide, especially in their ability to remove nitrogen,” said Ashley Smyth, of UF.
Scientists will find out how much nitrogen is removed by the Florida shellfish industry, according to Smyth. The only numbers available are from Virginia, North Carolina, and New England. Then they can calculate how much farmers should be paid for this service.
They will also conduct a survey of producers in the state and take water samples from four farms along the Gulf Coast.
The project is expected to start in January and last for two years.
In the meantime, Angela Collins said people need to buy and eat more local seafood.
“It’s a big deal in the state of Florida because we have so much coastal development and a lot of our seafood producers really depend on viable waterfront workspaces to get their people in and out. products. waterfronts is really important, ”she said.