Cedar Key's clam farmers feel squeezed out

CEDAR KEY — When Anna Hodges began harvesting clams in 1994, she earned 9 cents a clam. Now she gets 7 cents, but over half of what she and her husband, Mike — owners of Hodges Seafood — produce goes unsold because they say the market is saturated.

The result?

“We have (clam) farmers losing homes. We have clams out there dying,” Anna said on Tuesday afternoon, from their clam boat in Cedar Key that cut through waters divvied up by barnacled poles — marking off the “leases,” or plots of sea bottom where the clams are grown.

Only a couple of farmers stood working in shoulder-high water, an image reflecting the reality of the town’s threatened livelihood — at least if you’re a small clam farmer, which many people in this seaside hamlet are.

The farmers oppose state government’s proposal to expand leases, which they say would increase clam production and concentrate it in the hands of local wholesaler Clamtastic Seafood Inc., whose production of clams the farmers contend has already caused clam prices to plummet.

“This lease expansion would throw us over the edge,” said Mike Hodges, 55, who has been farming clams for 19 years. These days he spends only one day a week on the boat harvesting clams. He wishes it was more. “The rest of the time I spend patching nets,” he said, adding that this was work he once hired out.

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