On the importance of Wildlife Services and Veterinary Services to the aquaculture industry…

“Wildlife Services (under USDA’s APHIS) employees are very important to us because they have to certify our bird depredation problems. If we have trouble with double-crested cormorants, great blue herons or American egrets, they have to certify, ‘Yes, you do have a problem,’ to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In turn, that agency issues us a permit for some lethal take as part of a control program.

“Unfortunately, in President Obama’s fiscal year 2013 budget, he zeroed out the aquaculture line item for Wildlife Services.

“Also, Veterinary Services has had its budget cut. We must have their authority to issue health permits in order to ship product.  

“It’s true that these are trying fiscal times and there will have to be cuts in a lot of federal agencies. But we don’t believe agencies that regulate our industry should face those cuts more than any other.”

On issues facing catfish producers…

“The catfish industry is still concerned with the seafood inspection (laws passed) in the 2008 farm bill. Even though it passed Congress, it still hasn’t been enacted.

“This really isn’t a trade issue. The catfish industry has already taken it on the chin. In Arkansas, we’ve lost 60 percent of our catfish farmers and acreage already.

“The operations left are beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel. Catfish prices are back up to around $1.25. Eighteen months ago they were at 55 cents and farmers were losing money on every pound sold.

“Seafood inspection is a food safety issue. That’s something that we want to impress on the House Agriculture Committee. The American consumer needs to know that the fish they’re buying is safe to eat.

“There is actually a proposal out that would allow imported seafood to contain compounds that are illegal in the United States. Currently, if the FDA finds a compound illegal here, they’ll reject the shipment.

“That would change if this proposal – which is currently before Congress – passes and allows the FDA to establish tolerance levels for unapproved chemicals.

“Once again, this is a safety issue. If something isn’t safe to be in American-produced food then why should it be allowed in imports?”

On an aquaculture ‘safety net’…

“The committee also needs to know that aquaculture – especially food fish growers – need some kind of a safety net, some kind of an insurance product, like the government provides for row-crop farming.”

On the FSA office closings…

“I may not have time, but in my written testimony I’ll complain about the FSA office closings. I’m one of five FSA state board members in Arkansas and the USDA plans to close 10 county offices. The state FSA committees had zero input into this.

For more on the closings, see here.

“The problem is the USDA bought out employees at some of the FSA offices last December. That got them down to the two-or-fewer-employee threshold to meet the 2008 farm bill language justifying office closings.

“We’ll just be asking if the state FSA committees can be allowed to trade one county office closing for another, to finetune things and use more common sense.

“An example of an FSA office that needs to stay open is (in Arkansas’) Faulkner County - brand new building, infrastructure in place, a moderate to heavy workload.”