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Georgia's Fish Farmers Receive Cash Boost

GEORGIA, US - Stimulus money has been offered by the state to help fish farmers.

In terms of stimulus projects, $205,200 would seem pretty low on the food chain but Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that the Georgia Department of Agriculture hopes that amount will help stabilise a state fish farming industry that is shrinking when it should be growing along with the rest of commercial aquaculture, with international sales in the tens of billions of dollars.

Deputy Agriculture Commissioner, Terry Coleman, said last week that he thinks there is an opportunity to grow Georgia's aquaculture industry when the economy turns around, even though the agency says the number of fish farmers in the state has decreased each year for the past three years.

The state's fish farmers have been caught in a vise created by the recently ended three-and-a-half year drought in north Georgia, intense international competition and a growing demand for alternative fuel sources that has driven up the price of corn, a primary source of fish food, between 30 and 45 per cent in the past couple of years.

That is where the US Department of Agriculture's $50 million stimulus programme comes in.

The money will be given to fish farmers to offset the rising cost of feed.

States such as Alabama, Arkansas and Mississippi received millions through the program because they are much larger players in an international industry that nearly tripled in size between 1995 and 2007, when Time magazine says its sales reached $78 billion.

In Georgia, only 13 of the state's 150 some fish farmers applied for the assistance, which Mr Coleman called surprising. Still, their requests totaled $313,614, exceeding the amount awarded to the state.

All the fish farmers who applied will receive an equal share of the state's money, Mr Coleman told Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

It should provide some relief to Matt Getsinger, the owner of Georgia Select Fish Farm in Bartow.

Mr Getsinger said fish farmers were squeezed by the 2008 Farm Bill's heavy subsidy for cellulosic ethanol designed to make the nation less dependent on foreign oil. That helped fuel the increase in corn prices.

While corn is important to beef, pork and poultry producers, the crop makes up a bigger part of the variable – or uncontrollable – costs for fish farmers, Mr Getsinger said.

Combine that with heavy pressure from foreign competition, particularly from East Asia, and fish farmers suffer, he said.

"We've had to absorb a tremendous cost-of-feed increase whereas other industries are able to pass it on," he said because if fish farmers raise their prices, they will lose market share.

Like all the stimulus projects funded through the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the fish farming programme has a job connection.

That is true for Mr Getsinger's operation, which consists of four full-time employees and up to 10 part-timers at the season's peak between May and July. With his share, he says he will be able to keep at least two full-time workers from either being let go or having to shift to a part-time schedule.

the Fish Site Editor

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