Gas prices putting a stink on fish farms

PARAGOULD, AR (KAIT) – As gas prices continue to rise, the Region 8 farming industry is preparing for the summer; however in the fishing industry, there are fewer farms in operation this year, partly due to fuel and feed costs.

According to Dr. Carole Engle, Director of Aquaculture/Fisheries Center and Chair of the Department of Aquaculture/Fisheries at the University of Arkansas Pine Bluff, several fish farms closed last year when they weren't able to make money. Engle said catfish farmers were unable to make money. She said the fish processing companies gave farmers 80 cents per pound in 2010. This year, that same pound of fish is being sold for $1.25. She said the outlook for catfish farmers now is positive.

She said catfish farmers can now make money and some companies that went out of business last year are back in business this year.

While some farms have stopped operation, others have changed their tactics. Joey Pillow, owner of Coldstream Fisheries in Paragould, said he's abandoned catfish for bait fish. "If the processing plants wasn't paying a dollar ten, a dollar fifteen or a dollar 25, then there'd be no way that you could raise fish," said Pillow.

Pillow has been in the fish farming business for 35 years. He said his fuel budget gets steep when he's got so many trucks to run.

"The biggest challenge right now that we face is our feed cost, along with our fuel and others, but our feed cost is probably 30, 35 percent higher last year," said Pillow.

According to Pillow, Coldstream Fisheries spent approximately $17,000 on gasoline and diesel fuel in the last three months. He said he doesn't fill his two 8,000 gallon tanks to the top anymore.

"We'll put about 2500 gallons in it," said Pillow. "We'll stay where we're at right now and then come first of the year if it's not easing down, then we'll have to do something different."

Pillow said the cost of feed for fish is also expensive. He said he's had to keep an eye on it month to month.

"We started noticing this really back in the fall and then there about December, January, feed prices just started going up and normally we'll book feed in January or February  but this year all the farmers are scared to death to book it because it just kept going up and up," said Pillow.

Pillow said other factors that led to the demise of some fish companies was the fact legislators have worked to repeal a 2008 law, as part of the Farm Bill, that would move catfish inspection from the FDA to the USDA. Pillow said many of the fish products imported from other countries are not held to the same standard as American raised catfish.

"The imports that are coming in, they're not regulated like we are, like u-s catfish farmers. We're under all kinds of regulations," said Pillow.

Pillow said no matter the cost, as long as people pay for fish, he'll raise the product if it's affordable and profitable.

"It's just going to continue going up as long as the oil prices go up. Commodities will follow," said Pillow. "Coming out of winter, everybody has been cooped up all winter long and they're ready to go fishing. Of course we sell all over the United States and there's a lot of bait that's being used."

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