Florida Sea Grant Extension in Collier County

Welcome to the Collier County Sea Grant Extension Blog

This blog is an opportunity for me to share with you my extension outreach efforts and useful information to make you a more informed coastal citizen. If you have any questions about what you see, feel free to contact me at fluech@ufl.edu.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

About recreational shellfish harvesting in Southwest Florida

In many northern coastal states it is common for individuals to harvest shellfish such as clams and oysters for their own personal consumption. Although not as prevalent, recreational shellfish harvesting is legal in Southwest Florida, but there are specific guidelines about where and when harvesting is allowed and how many can be taken. Shellfish regulations are established and enforced to protect human health and also to preserve the living marine resources and ecosystem within which they exist.

Shellfish harvesting areas (SHAs) are established, monitored, and managed by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS), Division of Aquaculture. Because shellfish such as oysters and clams are filter feeders and can harbor potential contaminants that pose health risks to humans, several water quality standards must be met before FDACS can designate an area for harvesting. Within a SHA, there are several water classifications. The public is only allowed to harvest shellfish from approved or conditionally approved waters. 

Before visiting a SHA, it is always recommended to check with FDACS before harvesting to ensure the area is indeed open. Heavy rains, red tides, and other events that can potentially introduce elevated levels of contaminants can result in temporary closures. To find the status of a SHA visit www.floridaaquaculture.com, click on "Shellfish Harvesting," and then "Daily Status." The open/closed status of SHAs in Southwest Florida is also available from the FDACS shellfish field office in Punta Gorda by calling (941) 833-2552. 

 Recreational Shellfish Regulations
In order to legally harvest shellfish, a valid saltwater fishing license is required. In addition to knowing where legal harvesting of shellfish is allowed, recreational harvesters must also be aware of size and bag limits and seasonal closures associated with shellfish.

  • Minimum size limit: 3 inches
  • Bag limit: 2 bags per person or vessel, whichever is less, per day (1 bag = 60 lbs., or two 5- gallon buckets, whole in shell).
  • All oyster harvesting is prohibited during July, August and September with the exception of Dixie, Levy, and Wakulla Counties where harvest is prohibited during June, July and August. All harvest is also prohibited when allowable harvesting areas are closed.
  • Minimum size limit:1-inch thick across the hinge.
  • Bag limit: one 5-gallon bucket per person or two per vessel, whichever is less, per day. There is no set closed season, but all harvest is prohibited when allowable harvesting areas are closed.
NOTE: The harvesting of bay scallops south of the Pasco/Hernando County line is Illegal!
For more information on recreational shellfish regulations visit: http://myfwc.com/fishing/saltwater/regulations/

Conditionally Approved Shellfish Harvesting Areas in Southwest Florida 
(Collier-Charlotte Counties)

Ten Thousands Islands SHA in Collier County. Click on the map for a larger view.

Pine Island Sound SHA in Lee County. Click on the map for a larger view.

Gasparilla Sound SHA in Lee/Charlotte County. Click on the map for a larger view.

Commercial Clam Leases
Within the Ten Thousand and Pine Island Sound SHAs, aquaculture lease areas are established for the production of hard clams. Leased from the State of Florida, the corners and perimeters of these areas are marked with PVC pipes and signage. Cultured shellfish are protected by law; harvesting is prohibited except by the leaseholder. Anchoring within these areas is also restricted.

A Word About Vibrio vulnificus...
Although clams and oysters are delicious and provide many nutritional benefits, there can also be potential risks associated with consuming them. Vibrio vulnificus is a bacteria that can cause severe illness or death to at-risk people who eat raw shellfish. The bacteria is found naturally in warm coastal waters, such as the Gulf of Mexico, and bacteria levels can increase during summer months. Vibrio vulnificus is NOT a result of pollution, and can be found in waters approved for shellfish harvesting. The bacteria does NOT change the appearance, taste, or odor of shellfish.  To learn more about Vibrio vulnificus, and how to minimize risks associated with it visit: http://www.issc.org/client_resources/Education/English_Vv_Risk.pdf

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