I've spent so much time at the beach lately, I'm starting to feel there's some sand that I'll never scrub off my body completely.
All that fun in the sand'n'sun hasn't given me much time to visit farms and other local agricultural businesses for this column. Yet as I stared out at the turquoise Gulf one recent Saturday - and later watched my 9-year-old son catch two sheepshead fish we were able to grill and eat for dinner - I figured this is a good time of year to check in with the fishing business in Florida.
Fish and seafood make up a large part of Florida's aquaculture business. Aquaculture is simply a fancy name to encompass the business behind fish, seafood, tropical fish (like you'd have in an aquarium), aquatic plants, and even alligators.
Here are a few fun facts about the Sunshine State's aquaculture industry to consider the next time you enjoy your grilled shrimp or a grouper sandwich. These facts come courtesy of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
1. Florida is among the 12 top states in the nation for fresh seafood production. More than 107 million pounds of fresh seafood were harvested in 2011, for a dockside value of $223 million.
2. The value of aquaculture sales from Florida ranks seventh among the 50 states.
3. Quick quiz - what do you think are the top five popular fish consumed around the United States that are mostly caught in Florida? Answer: grouper, pompano, mullet, stone crab, and pink shrimp. Fishermen here catch more than 84 percent of the country's supply of these fish.
4. The top five species of fish and seafood by weight caught in Florida in 2011 were shrimp, mullet, blue crab, grouper and snapper.
5. Which five coastal counties had the largest seafood harvest in 2011? Monroe, Duval, Lee, Pinellas, and Franklin. I'll save you a trip to Professor Google (or even a good ol' map) - Monroe and Lee are in Southwest Florida, Duval County is where Jacksonville is, and Pinellas is where St. Petersburg is located. Franklin is in the state's Panhandle.
6. Closer to home, Manatee County ranks seventh on the list of coastal counties with the largest seafood harvest, and Hillsborough is 12th.
7. You'd think Florida has a long history with anything seafood related, but clams are actually a relatively new business in the state, said Chris Denmark, a development representative with the Department of Agriculture's Division of Marketing and Development. So far, the largest areas for harvesting clams are Sebastian Inlet in Brevard County and Cedar Key in the Northwest area near the Gulf. "You can find 'Fresh from Florida' clams at local seafood purveyors," said Denmark.
8. Florida oyster farming has also been in the news recently. Spring Creek Oyster Farm in Franklin County just received approval by the state cabinet and agricultural commissioner Adam Putnam to cultivate oysters in the Apalachicola Bay. The oyster business in Florida has been struggling in recent years.
9. Clams, oysters, snapper and tilapia are fish available year-round in Florida. Other fish have seasonal limitations.
10. Aquaculture leaders survey the diverse aquaculture business in Florida every five years. The last survey was in 2007, so results from the 2012 survey will eventually be released.