Cedar Key Clam Lease Expansion
CEDAR KEY - Cedar Key is one of the top producers of clams for the nation. That may be changing though. As the industry is taking a hard hit now that clam prices are at a record low. However a possible lease expansion in Cedar Key may become a new opportunity for some wholesalers, but independent clammers fear the abundance of clams will further depreciate the price.
Clammers met with the director of the state department of aquaculture, to discuss whether or not cedar key would expand its clam leases. And while the tone of the meeting escalated rather quickly, most clammers in attendance worry their businesses could be washed away.
"It's hard to get a sale," said Mike Hodges who has been clamming for about 20 years now. He says clam prices are lower than ever, dropping from 12 cents to 7 cents a clam. "You're lucky if you can get 10 bushels a week sale. Which 10 bushels a week ten years ago would bring $1100-1200 to a farmer a week. Now a 10 bushel sale of clams is barely $600," Hodges said.
Hodges is even more worried now, with the possibility of a lease expansion. A meeting with Kal Knicherbocker, the director of the state department of aquaculture made it clear the expansion would increase the lands available to leaseholders chosen at random rather than work with current leaseholders with unproductive leases. A meeting where emotions ran high.
If the lease expansion is approved, Hodges thinks that would devastate the small businesses. He says the markets are already flooded with clams affecting clammers on a national level. "If this clam lease expansion is approved then I predict that within two years the independent small clam farmers will be out of business, without a doubt," Hodges said.
Christopher Topping, the owner Clamtastic Seafood says he generally disagrees with the expansion but also understands why it can be convenient to some wholesale businesses. Toppig said, "Why somebody else would try to hinder someone from trying to improve their business is beyond me."
State Representative Charlie Stone who was also at the meeting says that at this point he does not support the clam lease expansion. "This is something fairly new to the state of florida. When you go into leasing state submergible lands there's always some challenges that comes with that. So we're going through some growing pains and understanding what is going on," Stone said.
The Levy County Commission wrote a resolution to Florida's Board of Trustees expressing their concern for small business clam farmers, opposing the expansion. In the meantime the director of the state department of aquaculture will carry today's message from the clammers to the board of trustees in Tallahassee who will later come up with a decision.
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