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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — There is no evidence that pollutants from the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill contributed to the “unprecedented” decline in recent Apalachicola Bay oyster populations, according to a report this week by the University of Florida.
Instead, the report by UF’s Oyster Recovery Team cites drought, insufficient rainfall and increased salinity in the bay as factors contributing to the dramatic drop-off in oyster landings beginning in September 2012 and continuing through the year, said Karl Havens, task force leader and director of Florida Sea Grant.
“There was a whole chain of circumstances that led to this situation, some of which are beyond human control,” Havens said. “Our report makes recommendations for many things that can be done to help the oyster population through management and restoration.”
Havens and other recovery team members discussed the report and findings with a crowd of about 60 residents and seafood workers Wednesday at the Apalachicola Community Center.
The full report and a summary are available at the UF/IFAS Franklin County Extension office or its website, http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu.
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Some teenagers want a car; Tiffy Murrow wants to feed the world.
The Fort White High School junior has spent almost two years learning to farm fish, with help from the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and her school’s agriculture adviser, Wayne Oelfke.
Murrow started with glass aquaria and tropical fish, then she graduated to a 750-gallon tank housed in an equipment building on the school campus. It holds 140 tilapia destined for a soup kitchen in nearby Lake City when they reach optimum size, about one pound.
But this project is about more than fish.
Soon, Murrow and collaborator Kaila Cheney, a FWHS sophomore, will begin growing vegetables on floating platforms in another part of the system, a shallow pool where water circulates. The crops may include cucumber, tomato, lettuce and basil. With roots dangling in the water, the plants will draw moisture and nutrients from the pool, reducing the need for fertilizer and helping maintain the ammonia and nitrogen levels tilapia need to stay healthy.
The technology is called aquaponics, a sustainable method for raising food where farmland is scarce. Increasingly common in Third World countries, aquaponics is still a novel concept to many Americans. But in Fort White, Murrow has plans to spread the word by holding open house events and encouraging others to investigate aquaponics as a possible project, hobby or business opportunity.
“We want to see if we can make a difference,” Murrow said. “This is a model showing how you can grow a large amount of food in a small amount of space. We want to set up the same kind of thing with fish ponds and incorporate it into Third World countries.”
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Responding to the oyster fishery collapse in Apalachicola Bay, experts with the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and Florida Sea Grant will join forces with local seafood producers to find ways of restoring sustainable populations of the area’s world-famous oysters.
“We’re extremely concerned and want to help however we can,” said Jack Payne, UF’s senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources. “An estimated 2,500 people work in Franklin County’s oyster industry and businesses closely allied with it. Many of them are now wondering how to put food on the table.”
In August, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services issued a report with bleak projections for the 2012-13 oyster harvest.
When Florida’s oyster season opened Sept. 1, Apalachicola Bay oystermen found few harvestable oysters. Since then, Gov. Rick Scott has requested federal aid for the community and reports of oyster declines have come in from Dixie, Levy and Wakulla counties.
In recent years, Apalachicola Bay has produced about 10 percent of the U.S. oyster supply, and accounted for 90 percent of Florida’s harvest. The dockside value of Franklin County’s 2011 oyster harvest was $6.6 million.
On Friday, Payne announced formation of the UF Oyster Recovery Task Force and named Karl Havens to lead it. Havens is director of Florida Sea Grant.
The task force has multiple priorities, including: learning why oyster populations declined, finding ways to help them bounce back, and identifying solutions for social and economic impacts, Havens said.
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The lack of legal ways to eliminate fish lice is frustrating for goldfish and koi enthusiasts, but a University of Florida study in the Journal of Aquatic Animal Health reports that a cure is in the works.
Fish lice, which are actually crustaceans, use their mouths to attach to fish and feed on blood and bodily fluids, causing tissue damage, anemia and sometimes fatal wounds.
Lice infestations are a problem for goldfish and koi owners as well as producers in Florida’s approximately $33 million tropical fish industry. A single pet koi can be valued as much as $100,000, depending on color, pattern and size, and products that keep them healthy are in demand.
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — To help federal officials understand the produce industries they regulate, University of Florida food safety experts recently took part in a cross-state tour that provided a behind-the-scenes look at growers’ operations and food safety efforts.
Five faculty members gave presentations highlighting their work to enhance the safety and quality of fruit and vegetable crops. The March 8-10 tour brought a delegation from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and other agencies to 15 farms and packinghouses.
Organizers hope the tour leaves a lasting impression, one that may prompt attendees to see regulatory issues from a broader perspective, said Martha Roberts, special assistant to the dean for research with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
“It’s critical that the people regulating agricultural crops have the knowledge and experience of seeing how the crops are grown, harvested, packed, repacked, shipped and sold,” Roberts said.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Don Sweat, a recently retired Florida Sea Grant marine extension agent, has been awarded the national William Q. Wick Visionary Career Leadership Award in recognition of his career achievements.
The award is given every other year by the extension program leaders of the 32 Sea Grant programs nationwide to recognize retired or soon-to-retire individuals for outstanding performance in extension programming or administration.
Sweat was the first marine extension agent hired by Florida Sea Grant in 1977. At his retirement he served a multicounty region on the state’s west coast, including Citrus, Hernando, Levy, Pasco and Pinellas counties.
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Not much in life beats a fresh grouper sandwich enjoyed with a cold beer and an ocean view.
But that experience is far less fun when consumers discover they’re paying a restaurant for fresh, locally caught grouper, yet eating farm-raised fish from thousands of miles away.
And sometimes they never do find out.
University of Florida researchers report in the current issue of Marine Resource Economics that 57 percent of the seafood-eating adults they surveyed would pay more if a labeling program guaranteed that sandwiches and other items contained fresh grouper caught in Florida.
The survey of 400 consumers was meant to show fishermen how much awareness there is about the knockoff-fish problem and whether a labeling program might be worth a closer look, said Chuck Adams, a professor with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and the Florida Sea Grant program.
“Basically we found that yes, people were aware of it, and we found that it had, in fact, affected their purchasing of seafood,” he said.
The Gulf & South Atlantic Fisheries Foundation paid for the $40,000 study, said Sherry Larkin, an associate professor in resource economics also with IFAS. Graduate student Andrew Ropicki worked on the survey as well.
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Recent cold weather has delayed largemouth bass spawning, says a University of Florida expert whose research suggests anglers should enjoy the opportunity for easy catches, despite naysayers.
In Florida, the bass usually begin spawning in January or February but this year they started at least a month late, said Mike Allen, a fisheries professor with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
Largemouths are the state’s most popular freshwater game fish. To spawn, male bass make shallow nests in the sand, court females, and then protect the eggs and hatchlings for several weeks.
Males guarding nests are notoriously aggressive, striking anything that moves. The fish are easy to catch, but it’s commonly believed that spawning-season fishing reduces bass populations. Allen’s latest study suggests that notion is rarely true. (more …)
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The oyster lover’s axiom of edibility — that this shellfish is safest to eat in any month with an “r” in it — may soon become somewhat of a culinary anachronism, thanks to a new food-safety test developed with help from the University of Florida.
Oysters are typically considered safest to eat in cooler months (September through April) because the shellfish-infecting bacteria in the genus Vibrio flourish best in warm temperatures.
Even in the “r” months, slurping an oyster opens some people to infection from these bacteria, which can cause fever, nausea, abdominal pain, diarrhea and has even led to finger amputation when it’s given a chance to penetrate a cut or skin lesion.
However, a new quick and inexpensive diagnostic test developed by DuPont Qualicon and refined by UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences could make weeding out pathogen-loaded oysters much more practical and efficient. Oysters are a $14 million industry in the Sunshine State, according to the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
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The Caribbean spiny lobster is one of Florida’s top commercial seafood species, with an annual $27 million harvest — but a recently discovered virus is killing the crustaceans and threatening the industry.
Now, scientists with the University of Florida and several other institutions have been awarded a three-year, $1.4 million National Science Foundation grant to research transmission of the virus, known as PaV1.
The research should answer many lingering questions about the spread and geographic distribution of the pathogen, and could lead to management strategies and new methods for identifying infected lobsters, said Don Behringer, an assistant professor with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
One of the main issues to be investigated: whether the virus is dispersed long distances by lobster larvae, which float hundreds of miles during their first months. Infected spiny lobsters have been found in far-flung places, including the Florida Keys and parts of Mexico, Belize and St. Croix. (more …)