Clams restored in Sarasota Bay

BRADENTON BEACH – Seventy bushels of hard-shelled (Mercenaria mercenaria) quahog clams were delivered and dispersed near the historic Bradenton Beach Pier today.

The Bradenton Beach Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) spent approximately $36,000 to purchase 200,000 clams as the initial phase of its ongoing efforts to create a living shoreline project along and near the historic pier.

The CRA authorized CRA member and local restaurant owner Ed Chiles to head up this portion of the living shoreline project that may also one day include finger docks, reef balls, educational kiosks and more. Clams are an important component of the living shoreline project because they naturally filter out waterborne pollutants and Karenia brevis, the red tide organism. Clams also promote seagrass growth.

Chiles turned to Chiles Group Chief Operating Officer Robert Baugh to help lead the efforts. Using the Chiles Group truck, Baugh and his son, Elijah, drove down to Pine Island this morning to retrieve the clams raised by clam farmer Carter Davis. The Baughs delivered the clams to the South Coquina Boat Ramp about 1 p.m.

Aaron Welch III, from Two Docks Shellfish, was among the local clam farmers who helped transport the clams by boat to the designated release areas near the pier, assisted by volunteers from the Sarasota Bay Watch organization. Sarasota Bay Watch acting Past President Larry Stults helped coordinate the volunteer efforts.

Chiles was on hand Saturday, as was Charlie Hunsicker, director of Manatee County’s Parks and Natural Resources Department, and Bradenton Beach Mayor and CRA member John Chappie.

“Being out there on the boat and watching the clams spiral down into the water column was so cool,” Chiles said.

The clams delivered today make up just a portion of the total number of clams to be dispersed near the pier. Baugh said another delivery is scheduled for Saturday, March 9 and will be followed by as many additional Saturday shipments as needed. Chiles guessed it might take six trips to complete those efforts.

Big clams

Chiles said the clams purchased for the CRA project are much larger than the clams typically used for clam restoration projects. He also said the harvesting of clams is regulated and harvesting restrictions are enacted during red tide outbreaks in order to keep the clams in the water where they naturally filter out the red tide and other pollutants.

“It’s been worse down there and his clams get too big,” Chiles said of Davis’ clams.

“The market is for consumption clams – middlenecks, littlenecks, topnecks. Once they get too big and too heavy, they lose a lot of value. These clams have grown during that time of the forced harvesting closure and he hasn’t been able to get them off the bottom. He hasn’t been able to sell them because they’re too big. Those big fat, heavy, hard, mature clams are too heavy to be valuable to restaurants. You don’t sit around and eat a bowl full of large quahogs – you chop them up and put them in stuffed clams. But that calcium-carbon shelled, big, heavy, predator-proof clam, brood stock quahog clam will live another 33 years and produce multiple spawns a year with millions of larvae,” Chiles said.

Davis told Chiles that each of the large clams delivered to Bradenton Beach will filter approximately 20 gallons of water per day, compared to five gallons per day for a littleneck clam.

Chiles said he first became interested in clam restoration about a dozen years ago after reading a newspaper story about Curt Hemmel, the founder of the Bay Shellfish Co. bivalve hatchery in Terra Ceia. In 2015, Hemmel, Chiles and others formed the Gulf Shellfish Institute to help promote the use of best practices for aquaculture projects throughout Florida and the Gulf region.