Governor Rick Scott has approved a legislative bill that will allow the use of handheld or hand-drawn hydraulically or mechanically operated devices in harvesting cultured clams from aquaculture leases. The bill (SB 1318) introduced by Senator Charles Dean passed overwhelmingly in the 2016 Florida Legislative Session. A companion bill (HB 489) was introduced by Representative Brad Drake. Detailed information on Senate Bill 1318: Shellfish Harvesting can be found here. The amendment to the Florida Aquaculture Policy Act (Chapter 597.010, F.S.) will become effective July 1, 2016. At that time, according to DACS Division of Aquaculture officials, clam growers may begin using these devices without modification to their lease contract or notification to the agency. The bill also defines “dredge or mechanical harvesting device” as a dredge, scrape, rake, drag, or other device that is towed by a vessel or self-propelled to harvest shellfish. However, use of these devices on a submerged lands lease will be limited to certain conditions, which are further defined in the bill and require authorization from the Board of Trustees (Governor and Cabinet). Note that the use of any of these harvesting devices are prohibited on public shellfish beds.
Applied research on alternative harvesting methods, which would minimize impacts to natural resources and improve shellfish production, was initiated in 2012 by UF/IFAS faculty at industry’s request. The purpose was to provide the science in consideration of legislative and/or regulatory changes to allow for the use of mechanical harvesters on shellfish aquaculture leases. With funding from the Florida Sea Grant Program (2012-13) and the DACS Florida Aquaculture Review Council Program (2014-15), the effects of a hand-drawn, pump-driven device to harvest bottom-planted hard clams and sunray venus clams on water quality and sediment (soil) properties were compared to harvesting clams in bottom bags, the culture method typically used by Florida growers, and to reference (unfarmed) conditions. Findings from these replicated field trials consistently support results found in numerous published studies, which conclude that the physical, biological, and chemical effects of mechanical shellfish harvesters are generally short-lived with the rate of recovery varying among studies. Summaries of the UF research and final reports to the funding agencies can be found on this website, go to Shellfish Aquaculture Production and Management Projects.