OSAGE BEACH, Mo. -- The United States is about to spend $50 million on fish food.
The money included in the federal stimulus package is intended to help keep afloat an aquaculture industry already struggling from foreign competition after feed prices jumped 50 percent last year.
It could provide algae to feed clam and oyster larvae along the Pacific coast, fill the bellies of tilapia in Arizona and feed catfish, trout and gamefish in the Midwest and South. Supporters say it will help keep fish farms going in tough times and preserve jobs in areas that have been hit by the recession and lack other industries.
The push for the fish rescue started with producers in Arkansas and the South. The aquaculture industry was worth $1.4 billion in sales in 2007, the most recent year for which the U.S. Department of Agriculture has figures. Catfish account for one-third of those sales, and the leading producers are Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas.
Missouri Agriculture director Jon Hagler toured two farms to last month to draw attention to the state's $500,000 share of the federal fish food grants. But he wishes there was stimulus money for pork and dairy producers as well.
"I don't begrudge the aquaculture because someone was able to get aquaculture funding," he said. "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."
The push for money for fish feed came from U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark. Her spokeswoman Katie Laning Niebaum said the senator understands the needs of other farmers but is specifically concerned about the catfish industry.
On the Net:
National Aquaculture Association: http://www.thenaa.net
Osage Catfisheries: http://www.osagecatfisheries.com