Florida Seafood Past and Present


This is florida matters. I'm robin sesing hand. Historians and local old timers. Tell us that wants tampa bay was overflowing flowing with delicious voice tres and that rivers like the manatee river were once so full of mullet that they roiled the water and their noise would keep you awake at night. We're talking about seafood. This week on florida matters coming up. We'll talk with ed child's. He's the son of the late. Governor lawton child's the owner of three restaurants and a founding member of the gulf shellfish institute which promotes sustainable aquaculture but i i'm speaking with gary moore mieno. He's a retired history professor at the university of south florida and now teaches a class on food and history. Gary's aries done a lot of research and writing on this topic gary. Thanks so much for being here delighted to be here. Thanks so what i wanted to talk about was how are see z. Life has changed and our seafood paint a picture. If you can for what it was like maybe a hundred years ago in the tampa bay area as far as the kinds of seafood that we had access to a bounty a richness of variety that we cannot imagine today i realize as i've gotten older and and look back much of the food in history classes about loss and nowhere is that more evident within seafood and shellfish. I used to offer a tour of ebor city for students and we would always stop at agley yano l. seafood buster adriano. He proud agley on fourth generation in the family. They've been here in tampa since the late nineteenth century. When we greeted needed him he would always ask the same question i so. What's the name of your fishmonger and he said are you kidding me. You don't know the first name aim of your fishmonger. Much of our seafood now comes from someplace else someplace far away and by the way egli anos is out of business down think of how few independent seafood merchants are around anymore. It's a reflection of the economy we live in and and we've inherited. I want to ask you about a few types of specific seafood. When you talk about the bounty fullness in the past i've never heard of coming from anywhere except appalachicola and was surprised to read an article of yours talking about how plentiful they once were in tampa bay. The earliest oyster description might be in the eighteen twenties when there was no tampa yet. There was a fledgling fort brooke. Look one of the soldiers was a man named lieutenant george mccall extraordinary figure who wrote enough entries in a diary that they were published but he was writing that one of the most delicious oysters he ever eight was harvested at tampa bay. Yeah in your article you were talking about crystal river even in the nineteen forties so this less than one hundred years ago they were talking about gigantic oysters there i think in nineteen eighty nine it might you've been one thousand nine hundred eighty sports illustrated began. An article was a feature article on tampa bay and it began tampa bay once the glory of the state is now filth and oyster will never grow in tampa bay again. Another thing that you quoted in your article was from dunedin dredging doing and you talked about how ruinous dredging has been to shellfish and to certain kinds of seafood and you quoted someone and name al chick o._h. A fish camp owner you could walk out offshore at low tide and pick up dinner full of scallops now. The silt is up up to your knees and he was talking about ozone. Ah i'm not sure ozone is north pinellas. I believe that's one of my favorite stories by the way this lovely community of arizona still not very developed. It's across the channel from dunedin. Saint saint joseph sound in the nineteen sixties. Ace developers are building what they call finger canals whereas you take. Let's say two pieces of waterfront property. If you dredged and fill them you you could have dozens of waterfront homes. The problem is that messed up the ecosystem and a lot of silt and it ruined the seagrass and you cut down the mangroves. I mean this is very familiar. Refrain and and <hes> eulogy for our state now you can't do that but for decades developers took advantage of and the seafood took ahead. What i'm wondering is now. We've recognized just how ruinous that kind of practices to a lot of our sealife. Are things coming back well. I wish i could be more encouraging courage ing. Let's let's look at appalachia coal for example. This is a community that has embraced the the importance of environmental control. Appalachia cola has fewer residents today than it had one hundred and fifty years ago seventy five hundred twelve thousand people. The county is not much more than that franklin county in appalachicola. You cannot use mechanical dredges. You must use the old-fashioned wooden. I suppose now metal dredges veges but the choice ter- harvest has just plummeted when we took a group of teachers there i remember lend martina whose family has been in the oyster business there for three three or four generations pointed to two trucks for sale on she said five years ago this would have been two thousand seven. Those trucks were delivering oysters. Here's to jacksonville and tampa twice a week. There were for sale signs on them. The problem is for easter's to thrive you need this delicate blend. Linda freshwater and saltwater too much of one is is ruinous and the appalachicola river is one of the greatest rivers and estuaries. He's in the world the the sheer amount of seafood coming out of there. The problem is fulton county georgia. They're two rivers that create the appalachicola cola river. They need the water to think of the politics of fulton county atlanta in franklin county with twelve thousand people who's going to win it still in court this news. What are some of the other things. I was thinking mullet. There was a very elderly man that i spoke to years and years ago who used to talk about the manatee river as just sort of boiling with with mullet now mullet clearly aren't as plentiful as they used to be. I think probably during the big development booms uh-huh win. The mangroves were being cut down. Which is the nursery for the mullet. They probably took a big hit but have regulations since trying to protect the the mangroves is that sort of health things come back. What what are we probably has a good book for listeners to read jack davis u._s._f. Student by the way <hes> pulitzer prize winning author of the gulf and he talks about the importance of mangroves and sustaining florida's fisheries and the worst thing you can do is cut down man krause and there's this constant battle between developers who want what pristine beaches without mangroves but they are the great breeding grounds you talked about the mullet boil you read these accounts nineteenth even as late as the nineteen thirties and forties of when mullet would run at night people couldn't sleep the mullet had this eke sound and and and there's so much of it sounds like the water is boiling. We probably haven't seen that in a while but mullet if we exhaust them all at we're all all in big trouble because that is seemingly a sustainable fish loopers doing well. Yes i still see a lot. I grew fried grouper sandwiches. Grouper story is is a florida parable and a lot of ways. I loved to talk about grouper in class and have students look at seafood advertisements from the nineteen thirties and forties and were things they come back and say we can't find it. So what does that mean if the top fisher or it was almost predictable. Red stamper was always very good. Pomp was always very and then mullet for poor people but groupers just didn't seem to be there there and then i found this article is during world war. One as europe is starving. The saint petersburg evening independent newspaper publishes a piece called grouper and grits and it's it's one of the most amazing editorials i've read. They said saint petersburg needs an iconic food. It should be grouper and grits and they said <hes> for a long period seafood merchants thrown away grouper because they can't sell it or use it for fertilizer fertilizer because the public won't buy it and they they were making a pitch saying when properly prepare grouper can be very tasted ugly. It isn't ugly a fish. None of it was used for food or little of it so gruber buster told me back to buster. Liano buster told me that he thinks he's the reason grouper became popular he said in the nineteen sixties and mcduffie of the tampa tribune came by and said buster. I get all these letters from women that hoppner red snapper king fish kobe too expensive. Isn't there a cheaper fish that everyone likes and he said gruber should be eaten more. It's it's a white fish. It's not fishy tasting and he said it took off because it became a substitute substitute for cod on sandwiches and and his buster would say the thing about this fish you batter it deep fry. It put it on a bond on with lettuce tomato. Mayo you fry your shoe exactly but grouper now is twenty four dollars. A pound black grouper fillets grouper <music> will be an interesting fish. The monitor already occasionally have seasons learned. They're worried about overharvesting. At least you know it's local kinda and local. I mean it's caught off off florida but at least in a goal it's not frozen in china and then shipped two weeks ago. Some listeners may remember the famous saint petersburg times expose on grouper about ten twelve years ago the late harry tomlin was a student in the florida studies program at u._s._f. S._f. saint pete he goes to the time and said i'd like to do an expose to see if if merchants are substituting other fish for grouper they had takeout galaxy twenty four items take out half of the fish being labeled grouper was fo- gruber asian catfish pollock. One of the twenty four was labelled a protein. They didn't know what it was what it was gross but we really don't have any we have. It's just all on page. We have to trust. We need our local. Fishmonger your buster buster og llano gary moore mieno. Oh is a retired history professor from the university of south florida still teaching a class on food and history gary. Thank you so much for being with me delighted to be here. Thanks you're listening to florida matters. I'm robin sesing ham. We asked listeners to share their comments about seafood and heard from robert king on facebook who echoed some of what gary mormino said he wrote what was once and almost unlimited seafood resources being fought over by competing interests and said red states unwillingness to manage growth and destruction of the natural environment depletes the availability of seafood for all groups. We also got an email from steve steve davies who argues that with red tide and other harms threatening marine ecosystems and animals. It's reckless and cruel for humans to eat seafood at all well. Many people are still eating plenty of seafood for now but there are efforts underway in our area to make the industry more environmentally sustainable. We'll hear more about about that after a short break. I'm robin sesing him. We'll be right back. This is florida matters. I'm robin sussing ham. We're talking about our state seafood industry. Just before the break we heard from food historian gary more me know about the types of fish floridians eight in the past and how development and pollution affected some of our sealife now. I'm speaking with ed child. The son of the late governor lawton child's is the owner of several seafood restaurants the sandbar in anna maria korea beach house in bradenton beach mar vista dockside in longboat key. He's also a big proponent of keeping florida's seafood industry sustainable and local l. Ed thanks for being here real pleasure to be here with you. Tell me about the gulf shellfish institute. You're encouraging shellfish aquaculture. Yes exactly yeah that was started about four or five years ago. Because of our interest in utilizing the resources that are area korea has got hooked up with a really bright guy by the name of curt. Hamill kurt is one of the foremost bivalve experts in the country. Five albums meaning clams oysters all kindly through shelled organisms. That's right a lot of them. We want to eat and so what he does is grow road them in his hatchery and then they go out to the clam farmers who put him out on the shellfish approved leases. We have two hundred eighty. Seven thousand. Also acres of shellfish approved water in the state of florida. Only one percent is least we are sitting here on the north end of the only place in the country that has three national estuary on its border. This is overlaid at a time when ninety two percent of the seafood that we eat in the united states is imported right and we're gonna come back to that now. Where is this estuary. Where is this shellfish. Institute route. Kurtz facility is in terrassa <hes> but our headquarters were very small footprint is at the port of manatee for the goal shellfish institute institute okay so tara zia. That's the southern end of the sunshine skyway exactly porta mansi that doesn't seem like it would be very clean gene water if it's a port with shipping you know they have the f. w._c. Aquaculture park there what they had to see is a salt water pump and permits wants to pump saltwater in from the edge of their property to do the snook in the red fish beds in there and so that worked very well for that you know there's a lot of things you can do to get the water quality right so what we hear from food. Historians is that at one time tampa bay was just abundant with oysters. It was one of the main annoy stir hatcheries in the state like appalachia cola. They went away now we did here. We got a comment from brian and lindsey z. raw sector from the loss coast oyster company. I don't know if you're familiar with them but they said there's a lower portion of lower tampa. Bay surrounding terraced sia aquatic preserve exhibiting water quality conditions ideal for raising our favorite bivalves. Presently there are a number of aquaculturists raising using shellfish in tampa bay to dock shellfish among these you know though and the loss coast company was recently awarded a submerged land lease. It'll be the first wide scale commercial oyster farming effort in tampa bay to date will. I'll look forward to meeting those folks. I don't know them now but we certainly by. I a tremendous amount of clams from two docks. Tampa bay in our area has a little bit too high of salinity royster. They want a little bit more fresh water mixed extend but it's perfect for clams right so nutrient level water quality and water temperature. This is as good a place as any place in the world to grow lance warmer water grows clamps twice as fast so you think about that for the efficiency and for what it costs the guy hi to bring that crop up but we really need to be doing things to incentivize our clam farmers. Let's look at the big five of aquaculture shrimp salmon <hes> catfish all of those have environmental issues waste stream any bionics hormones bivalves elves have zero negative environmental impact conversely. They have a huge environmental positive impact right they filter and small clams filter five gallons of water a day and large brood stock clams filter twenty five. I've gallons a day so what happened in the red tide for the clam farmers the clam farmers like carter davis down pine island whose kurt him was protege. His clamps have stayed on the bottom too long because of red tide closures and they've gotten too big those big clams don't have the value he's not going to plant another crop if his crop couldn't get paid for it this year so what we've said to a program that we did with the community redevelopment authority and brandon beaches we we did a project to plant clamps and there's been a lot of that lately and we said now we're going to realize that the value of that big large heavy thick shelled brood stock clam. That'll filter twenty five gallons of water a day the value to the citizens of florida. Is that claim to stay in the water. That's one of the programs that we're working on selfish additions to buy some clams to us. We're saying to the state. This farmer doesn't have an insurance policy right. There's no safety net up under him. We need clams and we need to clean water. We need to promote seagrass. If we're going to heal the gulf of mexico what's coming from the mississippi. We can't do anything about but we sure can do something and we do think things in our area and with the gulf shellfish institute to make sure that this precious place that is the nursery for the gulf of mexico will become more healthy and bivalves are one of the major ways that you do that. We're serving these clams in our restaurant but we're also recognizing the value of putting in the water and leaving let let them grow up bigger and bigger and bigger and produce a lot more clamps become part of the ecosystem to become part of the system. Let me ask you in your role as restaurant restaurant owner. I'm really interested in. Where are you getting your seafood. We get it from a local fisherman and six or seven seven different seafood distributors sammy's in saint pete so we went from all <hes> mostly imported shrimp all almost all domestic shrimp now most should the crab that you see is the blue swimmer crab and that comes from asia but we worked hard and we found a supplier down in pine island that can get us fresh pick crab now but you gotta work on that. So what can you get locally. How long have you got right oughta. These things are underutilized and not appreciated but they're fabulous mullet mackerel sheep head whiting amber chat king fish snapper grouper clams. Are these all on your menu on missing a bunch every single one of them in season. I guess well just when you know you. Don't get the whiting all the time. We get that rarely but we love to serve it. You know we get king. Fish is right now. We've got king fish hanging now. We're dry aging king fish. Come have some grouper callers for fourteen dollars. It's the best meet meet on a grouper and threw it away for thirty five years so now i'll take those callers and i show people. What a good eat that thin crispy career in from the outside down. My job is to promote local sustainable underutilized seafood and showed that by doing talkin fill seats and i can do well and do right at the same time how expensive is selling seafood like that versus buying from. I'm a distributor salmon or some of the fish. You can get from vietnam or china. It's a it's certainly a lot more expensive. You know that's why so much of that seafood. If it comes from asia because it's cheap you know what they're doing when they set out to do it and their efficiency doing it because nobody's saying no and the labor is super chief breath and they've gotten way ahead. They want to control that. They're smart <hes> so you're saying we just can't keep up with demand. That's why we're importing so much. We can keep up with the band. We need to ramp up the production. We need to get in the game. If we can incentivize clam farmers that's economic development. That's our here appeared. I'm ready to start my clam farm but why did in the water's fine. We need to make sure we're not nutrient loading right. That's what i want to ask okay. Why don't we see more fish farms. When you talk about aquaculture. What about fish-farming more you know. The largest salmon farm in the world is coming to your state dry land recirculating aquaculture system high-tech where would that be very ambitious homestead. What about sea-based based farming. Well you know his finally after fifteen years of study said that they're going to allow it six project so open water big big nets like they do the open blue koby project like they do with salmon and tuna in the gulf of mexico and the closest place to that hundred and ten foot water. Where are you need to be so that. The pins can be lowered and raised depending on what's going on storms and all of that is the port of manatee but this has the danger of being polluting though right when you have a if you have an open water pin one hundred ten miles out from the shore and the gulf of mexico was circulating water order. There shouldn't be any issue of pollution. There's fish out there in the water and there's their waste stream and that goes in and that's all part of the environment so i haven't. We done this yet because something that's why the fish that we're importing from other countries is so inexpensive one was noah wouldn't allow it. They studied it for a long long time. Probably we rightly so and to is you know there's there is more capital coming into this. <hes> the moon's getting lined up that there's going to be more aquaculture projects and and there's going to be more support i believe because the policymakers they've got their hair on fire because people are pretty upset. They wanna be able to say what they're doing. The new governor has certainly been a breath of fresh air in this regard so i hope he will be florida's environmental governor and i hope he will address these water quality issues and and not just about what's coming out of okeechobee but what's going in and all of the other spectrum of things anybody is doing anything to pollute inland marine waters. Let's just talk a little bit about you. Grew up in florida well. I grew up in in lakeland in polk county and i never remembered not being an anna maria because we always always went to the beach and i started my business there. When i got in the restaurant business when i got out of school with a political science degree and had to find a way to make a living so we ended ended up in annemarie in one thousand nine hundred seventy eight and i'm still there and you've always hunted and fished and i'm just wondering i'm calling on your powers of observation of what changes that you've seen to the beaches to see life well in a lot of areas. It's better if you look at our waterfalls mangroves grow back well yeah and we've been more attention to that more regulation that regard look our water. Quality issues are seagrass in in our area in manatee county. <hes> our county still has it's more to do but they have done a tremendous amount of lowering. What kind of wastewater is getting discharged and the the figures are showing that on seagrass on the snapper catch you know the snappers are back because of the way they've been regulating those a lot of people didn't like that regulation but there's a better snapper bite going on then there has been in my lifetime. I think molitor healthy you know as long as we don't get harmful. Algal blooms are waters are in or or in good shape. That's that's why they're ready to go clams so you're saying that the regulations that have been in place as you said for your lifetime that if limited fishing overfishing in an are trying to improve water quality are starting to show some results not just starting to they have been for for the last twenty years showing results yeah okay but that's not happening everywhere right. That's our area because we've been focusing on that and there's a a lot of others the people down in you know where it's coming out of the mahachi and all of that they're in. They're in worship than we are. Sarasota bay and south end is in worse shape than we are there. The numbers actually are going the wrong way in terms of that water quality in there and i think they're seriously trying to address that. What do you think the reason for that is. The septic tanks thanks and storm water runoff and against the whole spectrum of issues. It's never one what about development. It's a big player in all of this agriculture's. The big player to what we all do on our lawns is a big player. How we value our areas. Do we do like we've done in manatee county and and and by more environmentally sensitive lands and make sure that they're done. Are we doing things to enhance and protect these three national estuaries. You don't have to do this. I mean you so you know you. You make a good living. This seems a calling for you and i'm just wondering what what is making you care so much well well. We don't do it because it's easy but we do it. Because it's important look tourism twelve percent of the world economy. My business everybody about in the tourist business needs to be sustainable as they can be so that we have an opportunity that our kids and our grandkids get to experience what we this is emotional for you. You love florida yep. <hes> woe be it if you know we're the generation that let slip away ed child. It's been a pleasure talking to you well. It was pretty good until the thanks. That's it for today's show. You can find today's show on our website they'll be u._s._f. News dot org or look look for the florida matters podcast wherever you get your podcasts florida matters is produced by stephanie columbine and production of w u._s._f. Public media. I'm robin robin sesing ham. Thanks for listening <music>.

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