World's Aquaculture Economics Endanger State Fish Farmer

By: Dana Beyer – The Gasden Times

Help came Tuesday to Alabama catfish farmers who have had to pay more to feed their fish, making it even harder for them to compete with foreign fish imports.

State Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks said 141 aquaculture farmers including Hale County farmer Bill Kyser got a total of $9 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s $50 million national stimulus to offset the cost of fish food.

“Numerous aquaculture producers suffered from financial hardships during 2008 due to increased feed prices,” Sparks said.

“These funds will provide assistance to producers with the aquaculture industry.”

Kyser got about $100,000 to offset last year’s $2 million feed bill that has been increasing because of events mostly out of his and other farmers’ control.

He said the $100,000 will help defray expenses at his family farm that employs 14 people.
“Feed is close to 50 percent of our costs,” Kyser said.

Mitt Walker, director of the catfish division of the Alabama Farmers Federation, said prices of soybean and corn, main ingredients in fish food, are up dramatically for a growing and important Alabama industry.

“The five-year average cost of feed has been around $230 per ton, and last year we saw the average price up closer to $400,” Walker said. “That has been a significant burden on those guys.”

Jesse A. Chappel is

an assistant professor and extension specialist in the Auburn University aquaculture department. He said several factors affect the price of commercial fish food.

“Typically, feed prices are up and have been up for the last year or more because feed commodities — corn, soybean meal or wheat — are up substantially.”

Commodity grain trading, higher standards of living in Asian countries that are demanding more meat that are raised on grain and diversion of corn into the fuel stream all contribute to increased prices.

That’s good for grain producers but bad for domestic farmers who also compete with much lower Asian wages and almost nonexistent food quality standards.

“We have to get more efficient and get better at what we do to protect ourselves,” Chappel said.

“Of course, fish and shellfish and aquaculture is a new business on the scene, and it’s a good, environmentally friendly business, but nonetheless, we’re vulnerable in the world market.”

Catfish sales peaked at $5 billion nationally in 2000, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and foreign “dumping” of cheaper fish has been blamed for the decline of domestic sales to $4.1 billion last year.

Alabama catfish sales were nearly $93 million last year, down from a high of $101 million in 2004.

About 2,700 Alabamians work in the catfish industry, according to the Alabama Farmers Federation, and fish farming that also includes aquaculture production had a $500 million impact in Alabama in 2005.

Alabama is second to Mississippi in catfish production. And Hale County is the No. 1 producer among six or seven west Alabama Black Belt counties where catfish is an important part of the local economy.

Catfish farmers say another reason Asian fish are cheaper is they are not raised under strict environmental and food purity laws as in the U.S.

Walker said Alabama’s new state-of-origin placards in restaurants will inform customers that domestically grown fish is safe to eat.

Kyser said Asian catfish is about $1 per pound less than domestic catfish primarily because of lower wages and government subsidies.

Domestic producers have to nearly match the import price or they can’t compete.

“We’re kind of exposed here, there’s no protective trade structure to speak of,” Auburn’s Chappel said.

203 Swingle Hall | Auburn, Alabama 36849 | (334) 844-4786 |
Website Feedback | Privacy | Copyright ©