With a notable 1,197 miles of coastline and 4,424 square miles in total water area, it’s no surprise that fishing is popular in Florida. And while spending a day out on the water may be a calm and relaxing pastime for residents and tourists, fishing in Florida waters is much more than a delightful hobby. The seafood industry is an indispensable cornerstone of the state’s economy.
“Florida is unique among coastal states in that we harvest seafood from the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico,” says Paul Davis, development representative supervisor for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. “We’re either the leading harvester or the leading seasonal harvester of many species, such as spiny lobster, pink shrimp, stone crab and red grouper.”
The list doesn’t end there. An estimated 1,500 species or varieties of fish, plants, mollusks, crustaceans and reptiles grow and live in Florida. Depending on the time of year, seafood aficionados can enjoy everything from alligator and clams to blue crab and yellowfin tuna.
Unlike many other corners of the agriculture industry, aquaculture can provide food and income to workers all year long. With that in mind, it’s easy to understand how important the seafood industry is to Florida’s economy.
“Looking at data from 2016, Florida ranks 11th in the United States in terms of metric tons landed,” Davis says. “Our commercial fisheries generate $1 billion in sales, $262 million in income and $400 million in value added.”
The industry also generated more than 80,000 jobs for Floridians in 2012.
It’s important for an industry that survives on the contents of the state’s natural waters to give generous forethought to keeping the waters in good health for future harvests.
“Each time commercial seafood lands in Florida, fishermen must file a trip ticket,” Davis explains. “This lets us know the quantity and species that were harvested. That data is then used by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to regulate when, where and how much we’re allowed to harvest of each species.”
While these rules protect Florida waters from overfishing, best practices are another crucial piece of the puzzle. Two companies leading the conversation on conservation and sustainability are Cox’s Wholesale Seafood, a premier harvester of Key West Pink Shrimp, and the Panacea Oyster Co-Op.
Panacea Oyster Co-Op
The Panacea Oyster Co-Op was founded three years ago by the Wakulla Environmental Institute and individual oyster farmers. With an emphasis on bringing together oyster farmers and practicing sustainability, the co-op’s farming practices have seen incredible results in Florida waters.
“Oysters are the necessary ingredient for life in the shallows of the ocean,” says Rob Olin, CEO of Panacea Oyster Co-Op. “They act as a natural filter for the water. Imagine removing the filter from an aquarium. Everything in the tank would die. Put the filter back and all life returns.”
When oysters are returned to the waters harvested sustainably, ecosystems grow healthier and attract as many as 3,000 other aquatic species.
“Our co-op leases were completely dead waters when we first started,” Olin says. “Now sea grass is growing back, and we’ve seen shrimp, crabs and all kinds of commercial fish returning. The waters have transformed in just three years.”
Excited and passionate about the results of the co-op, Olin says he can’t wait to see what the future holds for oyster farmers and Florida’s ever-improving ecosystems.
“We’re using nature to save nature,” Olin says. “And all while we’re putting a community of hardworking people back on the water with great-wage jobs and growing great-tasting oysters.”