Agri Leader

Aquaculture's vast umbrella in Florida

In my last column, I shared fish and seafood statistics for Florida, which mostly came from a 2005 survey of Florida's aquaculture business. Lo and behold, around the time that column published, the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services released results from its 2012 aquaculture survey, conducted by the Florida Agricultural Statistics Service. Now, before you doze off because I've mentioned the word "statistics" too many times, bear with me. The facts and figures in this latest report are pretty interesting-or at least can make good happy hour trivia. This time I'll focus the news a bit more on the other side of Florida's aquaculture biz - it encompasses a motley crew of farmed fish, ornamental plants and animals, alligators, snails, and a few more items. 1. Overall, aquaculture sales increased in 2012 to $69 million, up from $66 million in 2005. 2. Ornamental animals and plants include freshwater and marine animals such as freshwater fish, crayfish or marine fish, corals, live rock, snails and shrimp sold to the water garden or aquarium markets. They had a total of $35.5 million sales for the state in 2012.
3. Alligator sales grew to almost $8 million in 2012, nearly double what it was in 2005. However, the number of commercial farmers that produce alligator meat went down to 10 last year, compared with 14 in 2005. Alligator hides make up 62 percent of the total 2012 sales. "Alligator farmers are responsible for harvesting eggs from wild nests and raising the offspring to release a percentage of them back into the wild," said Chris Denmark, a developmental representative for the Division of Marketing and Development, with the state's Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. "The farmers are nearly solely responsible for bringing alligators back from the endangered list in the 1970s." Other alligators raised on these farms are harvested for leather with meat as a byproduct, said Denmark. 4. Most of the 686 aquaculture operations in the state are small - 61 percent are fewer than 3 acres in size. 5. Sales of live rock - essentially, rock from the ocean introduced to saltwater aquariums - included rocks sold by 12 businesses, an increase from only six operations in 2005. These businesses lease acres of land in coastal waters off of the Gulf coast, the Keys and in upland tank systems. 6. Apparently, turtles are also a reported business (and to prove my point, my son's friend called as I was writing this to tell us he got a turtle). Last year, 28 turtle producers had $1.2 million in overall sales, a sharp increase from $222,000 reported by five businesses in 2005. The vast majority of last year's sales came from live turtles; about 10 percent came from turtle eggs. 7. Ornamental fish sales were down last year to $27.3 million, compared with $33.2 million in 2005. Buyers use ornamental fish in both aquariums and water gardens. 8. For clams, the average survival rate to harvest last year was 59 percent. 9. Shrimp farming is apparently not an easy business, as the Department of Aquaculture website explains. However, the University of Florida has efforts underway near Ft. Pierce to help provide guidance to the state's shrimp farmers. 10. Sales of mollusks last year were $11.9 million, compared with $10.7 million in 2005. This category includes hard clams (which make up 98 percent of the total sales in this area), as well as sunray venus clams and oysters.