Clam restoration could be used to fight red tide

Reporter: Stephanie Byrne Writer: Drew Hill
Published: Updated:
You’ve heard of farmers growing fruits and vegetables, but what about clams? These farmers have been growing them for more than two decades.
Clam farms and nurseries like Cutthroat Clams on Pine Island are facing hardship. Despite this, a small group of farmers is hoping to use their clam farms to help fight red tide.

Clam farmers are seeing this opportunity as a win-win situation. It presents a chance to give farmers much-needed work and a chance to restore the environment.

At Heeb Family’s Nursery, raising clams is a labor of love. Tyler Heeb is a Clam Farmer. “It’s been a family business. We’ve been raising clams commercially for about 25 years,” Heeb said.

However, Tyler Heeb and his family don’t love red tide. “It forces closures for harvesting, which makes it increasingly difficult to meet any type of delivery schedule, you have, you have a product that takes a year to grow up,” said Heeb.

He, along with other farmers, like Barry Hurt, believe that their clams can be used to fight the very thing that harms them.

Hurt is a clam farmer and dealer. “The ABC plan is A Billion Clams plan for Charlotte Harbor,” said Hurt. Because they are natural filter feeders, these farmers want to plant clam,  not to harm them, but to clean the water around them.

The only issue with the plan is that it will take some time. “If we had a billion clams out there, that’s about five billion gallons a day being filtered and the entire Charlotte Harbor estuary is about 100 billion clams. So it’s about 5 percent is what we’re shooting for. And it will take a number of years to get there,” Hurt said.

Luckily, the clam farmers say they already have the tools they need to get started. “We can immediately use our planting methods that we are using that we’ve been using on our commercial side. We already have the boats, already have the gear, the crew, don’t need to buy any of that. I just need materials. I just need planting materials. I just need to pay for seed,” said Heeb.

The farmers that are involved in the proposal are exploring multiple funding options. However, they’re really hoping to garner support at the state level.

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