Exploring Florida's Fisheries with Leslie Sturmer BY KYLE KNAACK

Leslie Sturmer, a University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) Aquatic Shellfish Extension Agent, serves Florida's shellfish industry by offering services to producers and by aiming to advance the state's fishery industry. She has been active in the shellfish aquaculture industry for 30 years and now works with second and third generation clam farmers in Florida. She obtained her master's degree in Aquaculture at Auburn University. Sturmer works with the Nature Coast Biological Station (NCBS) where she participates in collaborative efforts with other researchers to conserve natural resources throughout the Nature Coast.

Sturmer's interest in aquaculture led her to a move to Cedar Key, Florida in the 1990's where she helped with a training program that trained fisherman how to farm oysters and clams. Aquaculture is similar to traditional agriculture where it is farming in water as opposed to on land. According to Sturmer, today there are over 150 growers in Cedar Key who produce over 90% of the state's clams.

Sturmer's job as an Extension Agent has many responsibilities that vary from day-to-day. From being a teacher to working with policymakers or conducting research to production management, Sturmer aims to bring together people and solve problems based on the priorities at hand such as getting bills passed in relation to aquaculture and looking at the impacts of clams on soil properties.

"I think Extension doesn't fit one particular lot; you have the wear a lot of hats... I work with faculty at other institutions and state agencies as well," said Sturmer.

Sturmer finds that the aquaculture industry is one that is environmentally compatible with the waters they are grown in. She finds it fascinating that species of molluscan shellfish such as clams, provide services and act as filter feeders, meaning clams and oysters clean the water while they feed and are very good at removing excess nutrients from the water.

"My favorite part of my work is finding out that there is a need and finding ways to address that need. It is not always apparent and knocking on doors and partnering with other researchers is a challenge but always exciting when implementing research and coming to a conclusion," Sturmer said.

Sturmer finds herself involved in numerous research experiments. One of her most memorable experiments involved the reputation of poor shelf life in molluscan species in Florida. Poor shelf life in molluscan species served as an issue because the amount of survival and refrigerated storage to go through transportation had to meet regulatory requirements resulting in clams being stressed. The time frame between harvesting and refrigerating clams was quick causing the clams to be stressed- resulting in a shorter shelf life.

Sturmer conducted experiments with a research scientist and found that a step-down acclamation proves extended clam shelf life. The step-down acclamation process includes different temperature ranges between 85 and 46 degrees Fahrenheit which give the calms enough time to cool down between harvest and refrigeration without being stressed. Their research findings traveled through the state and federal levels where it ultimately resulted in regulatory change. The change in regulation was one of the first experiences that proved Florida's aquaculture industry with UF/IFAS can conduct research and offer solutions to continue improving the industry within the state of Florida.

Shoreline barriers, Megan Winfree/ UF AEC
"Part of the charm and excitement of this industry is working with various growers themselves... their love of the water matches mine and is part of the commonality of extension agents and producers," Sturmer said.

Sturmer's journey from interests to a career in aquaculture allowed her to discover new answers answers and a new industry in Florida. She encourages producers to ask for help when needed and to explore the industry and its possibilities. Her efforts towards Florida's aquaculture industry prove to be important to the industry's success.

For more information about Sturmer or Florida's Aquaculture industry visit UF/IFAS Nature Coast Biological Station at https://ncbs.ifas.ufl.edu/.

Kyle Knaack is a senior at the University of Florida pursuing a Bachelor's degree in Agricultural Education and Communication. Knaack is obtaining a minor in Leadership and hopes to pursue an agriculture-related career after graduation in the summer of 2021. Knaack is passionate about wildlife and the outdoors.

Credits: Coastline, Katie Ray/UF AEC, Leslie Sturmer/NCBS Website, Oysters, Betty Lou Reid/FL Sea Grant, Sturmer, Cedar Key 2016/FL Sea Grant