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UF/IFAS’ Sturmer recognized with prestigious national Extension award

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Leslie Sturmer is rooted in the culture – or should we say “aquaculture” – of Cedar Key.

The University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension agent works with shellfish harvesters and farmers in the small North Florida Gulf Coast town.

“I’ve been in aquaculture my whole life,” said Sturmer, “I’ve lived here for 22 years. I’m married to a clam farmer. I’d like to think I provide assistance to the industry.”

Last month, Sturmer was honored with the Distinguished Service Award by the U.S. Chapter of the World Aquaculture Society.

“To be honored by your peers is very rewarding,” she said. “I’d hate to think it’s because I’m getting old. To see Cedar Key continue to be a working waterfront community, to see this community be supported by aquaculture is more rewarding than the plaque. But the plaque is recognition that your peers see you’re doing worthwhile work.”

Jack Payne, UF senior vice president of agriculture and natural resources, agreed.

“This is one of the most prestigious honors that a professional in the field of aquaculture science can receive,” Payne said.

The plaque reads: “Distinguished Service Award presented to Leslie Sturmer for her cutting- edge personal contributions to the U.S. aquaculture industry through her leadership in research, education, Extension and consultant work in aquaculture by the U.S. Aquaculture Society, a chapter of the World Aquaculture Society.”

A bio written for the conference read in part: “Few people in the field of fisheries and aquaculture can lay claim to fundamentally changing a community for the better the way that Leslie has in Cedar Key, Florida. In less than 20 years, a diverse team led by Leslie has saved the small fishing village of Cedar Key from the economic depression caused by the closure of the traditional gill net fishery by working with the community and government to develop the state’s clam farming industry.”

Clam farming is now Florida’s most lucrative marine aquaculture industry, with a statewide economic impact of about $39 million. Cedar Key produces the majority of the state’s total clam crop, with an annual farm gate value of $12.3 million, according to the most recent UF estimates. The industry now grows more than 125 million clams per year, and provides the Cedar Key area with more than 500 jobs.

Sturmer works with the shellfish aquaculture industry in, as she says, “whatever their needs are.”

That can mean assembling a team of Florida Sea Grant experts to help diversify species by evaluating the culture and market potential of the Sunray Venus Clam. Sturmer also has recently worked with representatives from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services in conducting workshops on oyster culture as the fishery failure has spurred interest in this pursuit.

John Supan, a professor and oyster specialist at Louisiana State University and Bill Walton, associate professor of aquaculture and aquatic sciences at Auburn University nominated Sturmer for the award.

“If there were a Hall of Fame for aquaculture outreach, extension and research, Leslie Sturmer could retire today and be assured of a place in this Hall for what she has accomplished already in her great career,” Walton said.

Kathleen Hartman and Leslie Sturmer

Kathleen Hartman, president of the U.S. Chapter of the World Aquaculture Society, left, poses with UF/IFAS aquaculture Extension agent Leslie Sturmer  after Sturmer won the Distinguished Service Award. Credits: Courtesy of Leslie Sturmer.