Tuesday, June 16, 2009, 01:40 (GMT + 9)
By Natalia Real
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A federal stimulus package going to the struggling aquaculture industry will include USD 50 million to be used on fish feed. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) will distribute it in the form of grants through state agriculture departments based on amounts of feed utilised in 2007.
Feed increased in cost by over 50 per cent last year, aggravating the difficulties suffered by the national aquaculture industry caused by foreign competition. Supporters believe the stimulus package will be able to sustain fish farms and preserve jobs in the areas most affected by the economic recession and other factors, reports The Associated Press.
It was producers in Arkansas and the South who pressed the most for the package through US Senator Blanche Lincoln, D-Arkansas, who is particularly worried about the catfish industry. According to the USDA, in 2007 the aquaculture industry was worth USD 1.4 billion, one-third due to catfish sales from Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas.
Mike Freeze, vice president of the Pine Bluff, Arkansas-based National Aquaculture Association said that a considerable amount of fish farmers are located in poor regions and have been hit with both higher feed prices and higher electricity costs in addition to foreign competition.
The fish feed purchased with the stimulus package could stretch from the South through the Pacific coast, feeding everything form shellfish to catfish, tilapia and trout.
Fish feed for commercial fish includes corn, wheat, soybeans and fishmeal as the main ingredients. It is the increases in prices of corn in particular that drove the prices of fish feed to rise.
It is processors, who have not increased pay, who hold the power to set prices. While farmers producing baitfish have been able to up their prices in accord with those of fish feed, farmers raising fish for human consumption are stuck.
"Our catfish farmers have been taking it on the chin the last couple of years," said Freeze.
Meanwhile, non-fish farmers in similar situations want to know why they are not receiving any financial aid.
"I don't begrudge the aquaculture because someone was able to get aquaculture funding," said Missouri Agriculture Director Jon Hagler.
"I think that's fantastic, and we're going to take advantage of it because if we don't we lose it. But in terms of the other industries, I just wish there was more available for them."