Sarasota, FL — Sarasota Bay Watch (SBW) announces that it has received the state’s first underwater aquaculture lease for clam restoration and research.
“In response to increasing interest in shellfish restoration activities, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) Division of Aquaculture updated language to allow Aquaculture Management Agreements to be issued to qualified entities for restoration aquaculture purposes,” said Charlie Culpepper, Assistant Director Division of Aquaculture, FDACS.
The lease agreement provides Sarasota Bay Watch the rights to rear and distribute native hard-shell clams (Mercenaria campechiensis) to continue improving regional water quality through bivalve restoration. The 4.5-acre plot will be leased for 5 years and will also host scientific research. Sarasota Bay Watch has followed scientific advice from the Gulf Shellfish Institute’s Executive Director Steven Hesterberg in most of the activities regarding clam restoration.
“Sarasota Bay Watch continues to lead by example. The establishment of a shellfish lease specifically for restoration is the first of its kind in our state and a model for returning ecologically vital bivalve mollusks back into our estuaries,” says Hesterberg.
Sarasota Bay Watch’s Executive Director Ronda Ryan is honored that the organization is being entrusted with the lease. “This lease enables us to increase our restoration scope and provides a large-scale project for research to advance the understanding of water quality issues and impactful approaches to restoration.”
Other community partners also see this as a win for the local ecosystem. “Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) is a proud partner of SBW and our missions are closely aligned. It is critical that we continue to restore our coastal ecosystems and clean the water, and clams do both. As filter feeding organisms, clams are especially efficient at filtering the water, removing nitrogen, and storing carbon,” said Brian Gorski, Executive Director of Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) Florida.
The shellfish located within the lease are protected by law from harvesting from outside parties. The clams are not for consumption but are utilized for their natural filtering properties, and Sarasota Bay Watch will grow and harvest these clams within the lease area for activities directly related to restoration. It takes approximately 18 months for a clam to be ready for placement within a pre-assessed restoration site. Meanwhile, the clams will filter water, spawn and reproduce within the lease. The group’s clam project began in 2018, and to date they have released a total of 1,525,000 clams with the help of community volunteers and will continue to deploy a million clams within 2022.
“Sarasota Bay Watch’s motto that ‘A Healthy Bay is Everybody’s Business’ communicates that everyone needs to be a part of the solution. Engaging the community in the process of clam restoration has increased healthy water awareness, an understanding of the negative impacts threatening our water, and the need for action. People love to participate in activities that make a difference, and I am so proud to live in a community that takes steps to protect its most valuable and precious asset,” says Ronda Ryan, Executive Director of Sarasota Bay Watch.
About Sarasota Bay Watch
Sarasota Bay Watch is an action-based, grassroots, non-profit organization dedicated to restoring coastal ecosystems through citizen participation.
Sarasota Bay Watch, Inc. (SBW), a 501 (c) (3) organization, is registered with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Registration # CH26990. No amount of any contribution is paid to a professional solicitor and 100% of each contribution is retained by SBW.