Did you know clams are higher in Iron than beef liver? After living and working in Port Charlotte for nearly five years, I thought I knew everything there is to know about Charlotte Harbor & the Gulf Islands, the Southwest Florida destination located between Sarasota and Fort Myers. Thanks to Betty Staugler with Florida Sea Grant and Barry Hurt with Placida Gold Aquafarms, LLC, I recently learned about Charlotte Harbor’s aquaculture and specifically clam farming.
In the town of Placida, still lovingly holding onto its Old Florida fishing community roots, is Cole’s Clam Nursery (12390 Placida Road) where clams are raised then harvested. [Sidebar: If you’re looking for fresh blue crabs, as in still moving, you’ll find them here! ] I received special behind-the-scenes access to the farming operation which included seeing the spat (baby clams) in their trays then learning how they are raised as well as the good they do for Charlotte Harbor.
Clam farmers really aren’t farmers per se, they’re more like shepherds since clams really don’t need special caring other than some protecting from natural predators. They have no added treatments of antibiotic-store.com or hormones and they receive their nutrients from the harbor. Once large enough, they are transferred from their trays into a mesh bag and secured somewhere in the farmer’s acre of water leased from the state and monitored by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services for water quality.
Move Over Hard Clams, There’s a New Clam in Town
Up until relatively recently, farmers have just been raising and harvesting hard clams but some, including Placida Gold Aquafarms, are also raising sunray venus clams (Macrocallista nimbosa), a new aquaculture molluscan shellfish species. The sunray venus is not intended to replace hard clams but to diversify Florida’s aquaculture.
Native to the Sunshine State, the sunray venus is found from South Carolina to Florida and the Gulf Coast states. They were commercially harvested during the 1960s and ’70s off Florida’s northwest coast. Within the last five years this shellfish has been commercially raised and harvested. Officials from the University of Florida and Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute at Florida Atlantic University have monitored the market potential of sunray venus clams with the Florida Sea Grant College Program providing funding.
Behold the Mighty Clam
Sunray venus clams are really an amazing food source. In addition to being a source of lean protein (8g for a single 3oz serving, which is 18 to 20 cooked clams), Omega-3 fatty acids (50 percent) and with 25mg of cholesterol per serving, clams are also good for the harbor. They filter algae out of about a gallon of seawater a day and remove carbon from the water to make their shells.
From hatchery to plate, it takes 18 months of tender care to raise clams. And, clam farming is good for the economy. In 2007 the industry had a statewide economic impact of $247 million.* All hail the mighty clam!
How do they taste? Pretty darn tasty! They’re plump, tender and sweet with minimum to no grit. They don’t have an overly fishy-seafood taste just mild in a very good way. I had them prepared with butter, wine and garlic at the Fishery Restaurant in Placida. It’s not an everyday menu item but if visiting, ask for them!
Sunray venus clams were introduced at the International Boston Seafood Festival in March 2011 and were featured during the 2012 show. As word spreads how delicious these bivalves are, you’ll probably being seeing them on menus of your favorite seafood restaurants.
Are you a seafood fiend?
Data Source: Florida Sea Grant
*$247 million figure provided by Florida Sea Grant’s “Economic Impact of the Commercial Hard Clam Culture Industry on the Economy of Florida,” 2009.