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Florida Aquaculture Held Back by Planning Rules

by the Fish Site Editor
28 August 2009, at 1:00am

FLORIDA, US - Fish farming may be a small part of Volusia County's total agricultural picture, but at least two efforts to expand the industry are being held back by a county rule limiting excavation of ponds.

Volusia County Council voted last week not to change its rule of allowing one 3/4-acre pond per 10 acres and requiring a special exception for aquaculture, according to News Journal.

Still, some aquaculture practitioners are not willing to go belly up.

"That violates state statutes in that the county is trying to regulate a certified commercial fish farm," said Michael McMaster, president of Mariculture Technologies International in Oak Hill, duringa recent meeting of the Agri-Business Interrelationship Committee, a County Council advisory group.

Mr McMaster's 10-acre facility raises pompano in saltwater ponds along with tilapia and brine shrimp.

The company got a special exception nine years ago but was shut down last month while trying to build a second pond for a new crop of fish. He is considering moving the operation to Brevard County.

"The county has no jurisdiction, and we are ready to go to court," Mr McMaster said.

He points to the Florida Right to Farm Act, which includes aquaculture in its definition of agriculture. The act prohibits local governments from passing laws that prohibit, restrict, regulate or limit activity of a bona fide farm operation on agricultural land where best management practices developed by a state agency are followed.

The state Division of Aquaculture certifies fish farms and has a best management practices manual.

Lloyd Flanagan has been fighting the county rule for more than two years. He owns eight acres and leases another eight in DeLeon Springs.

He has two ponds but wants to dig 10 to 12 half-acre and three-quarter acre ponds to stock with bass, brim, catfish, tilapia, crawfish and mud minnows for fee-fishing business. Customers would fish his ponds and pay by the pound for the fish they keep.

"There are no regulations anywhere else. Fee fishing is all over Tennessee and this would be the first in Volusia County," Mr Flanagan said.

The special exception is a way for the county to regulate the number of holes dug in Volusia County to protect the land for future generations, said Greg Stubbs, the county's growth and resource management director.

Too many holes already exist, planning director Becky Mendez said, some dug by people saying they want to develop a fish farm, but never do. Controlling truck traffic and avoiding road shoulder damage are other benefits of the special exception application.

Mr Stubbs and Mr Mendez pledged to work through the special exception process with legitimate fish farms who get a state certificate, have solid site and business plans, and supply the county with the state's annual inspection reports. They also pledged to get the issue onto the County Council's agenda for a public discussion.

According to News Journal, advisory board members agreed to speak with County Council members before voting on a recommendation about the pond issue.

The US Department of Agriculture estimated the value of aquaculture in Volusia County at $721,000.

Of the 28 state certificates in Volusia County, 13 are for clam leases in the Indian River Lagoon while seven are for tilapia and other freshwater fish. Other certificates are for sturgeon, shrimp, corals and aquarium fish.

There is one state certificate in Flagler County to raise oysters, clams and drums.

"In 2000, there was a prediction that by 2020 half the fish eaten in the world would be farm raised. We are at 60 to 65 percent now and most of that is from overseas," said Gene Evans of Pierson, who has been raising fish for more than 40 years at Evans Fish Farm, one of the largest in the area. "A lot of money is leaving the country. Aquaculture is an important industry."

the Fish Site Editor