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image - hands holding clams after harvesting. Credit Tyler Jones

UF/IFAS awarded grant to boost shellfish aquaculture industry, water quality initiatives

  • University of Florida scientists hope to boost the shellfish aquaculture industry severely impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • Scientists will use a $100,000 grant awarded by The Nature Conservancy (TNC) to capture statewide data needed from shellfish farmers and shellfish growers as a start.
  • Researchers from UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and Florida Sea Grant believe the data will provide a much-needed economic boost to the shellfish aquaculture industry as well as foster environmental benefits to water quality initiatives.

An oyster farmer harvesting oysters in the Gulf of Mexico off of Apalachicola, Florida. Courtesy UF/IFAS Photo Tyler Jones

Please be advised that my email responses will be delayed beginning at 7 a.m. Weds, November 17 through 5 p.m. Thurs., November 18. I am out of my office assisting with a video shoot of the UF/IFAS Fume School at Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center. If this is an emergency or a media inquiry, please call my mobile at 954-242-8439.

HOMESTEAD, Fla –Shellfish like clams and oysters can help restore ocean health and support economic development and food production in coastal communities worldwide.

image - Ashley Smyth - at her Tropical Research and Education Center lab

Ashley Smyth at UF/IFAS Tropical Research and Education Center (TREC) in Homestead.

A scientist at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) has partnered with Florida Sea Grant researchers on a $100,000 grant awarded by The Nature Conservancy (TNC). Through the grant,  scientists plan to quantify the ecosystem benefits of bivalve aquaculture, specifically assessing the use of oysters and clams. Researchers also will explore how to integrate shellfish into water quality policies in the state.

The Conservancy announced the grant recipients this month as part of the new Supporting Oyster Aquaculture and Restoration (SOAR) Shellfish Growers Resiliency Fund.

“The grant will help pave the way for shellfish aquaculture in Florida,” said Ashley Smyth, an assistant professor of biogeochemistry and soil and water sciences at UF/IFAS Tropical Research and Education Center in Homestead, Florida. “The amount of nitrogen removed by oyster and clam aquaculture in Florida is unknown. Until those data exist, it is difficult to have a direct path for shellfish growers to contribute to water quality restoration and mitigation policies, or to be compensated for the ecosystem services that their products provide.”

Smyth and a team of Florida Sea Grant agents will measure nitrogen removal by shellfish farmers, conduct a policy analysis and survey credit buyers and shellfish growers to determine costs of credits by:

  • Conducting a survey of shellfish farmers around the state,
  • Sampling water at four shellfish aquaculture farms — two oyster and two clam — along the Gulf Coast,
  • Reviewing the current policies around payments for ecosystem services and nutrient trading credits.

“This grant will give us local and statewide data related to the specific role that shellfish aquaculture plays in regulating nutrients,” said Smyth. “This is the information that is needed to accurately compensate shellfish growers for their ecosystem services.”

Oysters and clams are more than a fine dining center-of-the-plate. They are efficient water filterers and natural buffers for coastal communities. Farmed or wild, a healthy adult oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water daily, removing excess nutrients in coastal waters, often caused by runoff.

Oyster reefs, which can be made of hundreds of thousands of oysters, help protect shorelines from erosion by serving as natural buffers against rising tides and hurricanes. Despite the benefits they provide, oyster reefs are the most imperiled marine habitat on Earth. Globally, over 85% of oyster reefs have disappeared due to overharvesting, diseases and habitat modification.

When the pandemic caused restaurants across the country to close unexpectedly, many oyster farmers couldn’t sell their product. SOAR was created to support struggling farmers by purchasing unsaleable live oysters to use on restoration sites. Since its launch in October of 2020, SOAR has supported 125 shellfish farming companies and sustained over 450 jobs across seven states.

UF/IFAS has joined the project to encourage diversity, equity and inclusion in the shellfish industry; diversify products and marketing streams; encourage grower participation in marine conservation efforts and enhance the sustainability of farming operations.

Joining Smyth on the UF/IFAS project is a team of Florida Sea Grant agents or FSG-affiliated faculty across the state. From Gainesville, these faculty include Shirley Baker, Kelly Grogan and Tom Ankerson. Helping with restoration aquaculture from the Tampa Bay Region are Angela Collins and Josh Patterson. Assisting along the rest of the Gulf Coast are Leslie Sturmer from Cedar Key, and Erik Lovestrand from Franklin County.

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By: Lourdes Mederos, 954-577-6363, rodriguezl@ufl.edu

The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS brings science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents.
ifas.ufl.edu  @UF_IFAS

The Florida Sea Grant program, hosted at UF/IFAS, is a university-based program that supports research, education and Extension to conserve coastal resources and enhance economic opportunities for the people of Florida. In addition to UF/IFAS, the program is a partnership between Florida universities, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and county governments.
 flseagrant.org  |  @FloridaSeaGrant