FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Gordon Helm
The National Marines Fisheries Service, an agency of the Department of Commerce's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, has approved a $10 million loan for aquaculture development to Southern States Cooperative, Inc., a farmer-owned organization headquartered in Richmond, Va.
Issued under the Fisheries Finance Program, the loan will be made available to aquaculture growers through Southern States, according to Program Director Brian Squyars.
"The cooperative will use most of the money to help farmers finance state-of-the-art closed systems for tilapia production that we have been developing for the past several years," Squyars says. "Construction of a fingerling nursery and a processing plant will account for the remainder." Tilapia, also known as St. Peter's fish, is a high-protein, low-fat fish that is popular with consumers for its mild, white meat fillets.
NMFS Director Penny Dalton views the accord with Southern States as a way to encourage environmentally sound aquaculture.
"Approximately 30 percent of the seafood the world currently consumes is produced through aquaculture," said Dalton. "We are looking for ways to encourage U.S. aquaculture production that expand sources of healthy seafood and also could help ease the strain on wild stocks."
The world fish catch in oceans and inland waters has increased more than five-fold since 1950 and reached 93 million tons by the mid 1990s, despite a demand that will rise to an estimated 115 million tons annually by 2010. However, only small increases in the wild harvest are predicted as many of the world's major fishing grounds are stressed and many stocks of fish over-harvested.
Aquaculture, the controlled cultivation of finfish, shellfish and aquatic plants, is already playing a part but will have to take on an expanded role if demand is going to be met in the next decade.
Southern States, one of the largest farmer-owned cooperatives in the country, currently has twenty-eight independent grow-out facilities up and running, under construction or on the drawing board in southeast Virginia, northeast North Carolina and southern Georgia.
Through its Farmer's Catch division, Southern States completed the development work - biological, technical, operational, business and financial - to enable farmers to participate in this innovative business approach. Aquaculture can help protect farm income through crop diversification and can supplement incomes threatened by low commodity prices, plummeting demand for tobacco and weather-devastated crop yields.
Under this program, farmers purchase a 6,000 square foot turnkey production facility that is constructed on a five-acre section of the farm. They supply the labor (approximately two hours per day) and utilities and are paid a portion of the wholesale farm-gate price, based on individual contract terms. Southern States provides the fingerlings, feed, technical expertise, training, grow-out facilities, insurance and financing. The cooperative also handles the transportation, harvesting and marketing of the fish.
U.S. per capita seafood consumption has been relatively flat, but aquaculture, at three pounds per capita, contributes more to American tables than veal, mutton and lamb combined.
NOAA Fisheries conducts scientific research and provides services and products to support fisheries management, fisheries development, aquaculture, trade, and industry assistance, enforcement, and protected species and habitat conservation programs. NOAA Fisheries supports the development of environmentally sound aquaculture in the U.S. through research within its own laboratory structure and through funding of academic and industry programs including the Fisheries Finance Program.
Southern States - founded in 1923 - is a farmer-owned cooperative operating in 16 states stretching from Michigan to Florida and west to Louisiana. This Richmond, Va., based firm is one of the largest U.S. farmer-owned cooperatives that purchases, manufactures or processes feed, seed, fertilizer and fuel. It also sells farm, animal health, lawn, home and garden supplies through 751 local dealers in its operating territory. In addition, Southern States gins cotton and markets livestock, small grains, corn, peanuts and soybeans. In its fiscal year which ended June 30, 2000, Southern States had sales of $1.6 billion.
Kell Freeman, NOAA Fisheries, Financial
Services Branch, 9721 Executive Center Drive North, St. Petersburg,
FL 33702-2449; Telephone: (727) 570-5377; E-Mail: Kell.Freeman@noaa.gov