Florida's aquaculture industry is still reeling from the impact of Hurricane Idalia, with authorities estimating initial damages of $34.1 million to producers and processors in the State.
The hurricane, which made landfall as a Category 3 storm on August 30, left a trail of flattened properties and destroyed livelihoods as its destructive 125 mph winds, together with torrential rain, storm surge and flooding, lashed the Florida coastline. Amongst the worst affected areas was Cedar Key, a key location for Florida's clam aquaculture industry.
Florida's Department of Agriculture recently undertook a survey to assess the hurricane's damage to aquaculture growers and shellfish processors in the State. The survey, sent out to 324 registered aquaculture growers as well as 64 shellfish processors in areas affected by the hurricane, received a response rate of 72%.
Florida Aquaculture Certificate of Registration holders reported losses of almost $29.5 million, while shellfish processors reported losses of $401,520, with the total adjusted to just over $34 million to take account of non-reporting facilities.
By far the biggest aquaculture group affected were Florida's shellfish farmers, accounting for 88% of the producers reporting damage, with clam producers the hardest hit.
Clams typically require two years from seed production to final harvest – meaning Idalia's landfall on August 30 "will result in devastating losses to all the phases of clam culture for years to come," according to the Florida government assessment.
"Aquaculture is Florida's most diverse agribusiness, and it took a hard hit following Hurricane Idalia — particularly the shellfish industry in the impacted areas," said Commissioner Wilton Simpson, announcing the results of the survey.
"While these numbers are estimates, they are expected to increase as farmers continue to evaluate losses, and we will do everything we can to support this important industry unique to Florida and ensure that they have all the tools they need to recover."
The Florida Department of Agriculture is continuing work on a comprehensive damage assessment for agriculture, with possible financial support for aquaculture producers as yet unknown.
Meanwhile, the state has already requested federal aid for its fishing industry from the U.S. Secretary of Commerce through a federal fisheries disaster declaration.
Such declarations are granted under the authority of the Fishery Disasters Improvement Act, when a fishery experiences a significant and unexpected decline in fish stocks or a natural disaster that affects the industry's ability to catch and sell fish.
"[Fishing] is an important part of the economy here, it has obviously been interrupted and it is going to be a big blow to a lot of folks in that industry," said Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, announcing the declaration. "We are going to request from the U.S. Secretary of Commerce a federal fisheries disaster to help our fisheries rebuild."