Where is the help for rockfish hit by the February frost? | Notice


Since the weeklong freeze in February, Nasir Kureshy, the owner of Turtle Creek Aquaculture in Palacios, has been busy cleaning up the tens of thousands of dead rockfish in his ponds, asking for disaster loans and advocating with other farmers for relief.

So far, calls for help from fish farmers have met with silence from federal officials.

“Really, I’m a little surprised that they weren’t even willing to discuss this with us,” Kureshy said. “We certainly haven’t had a good reason why they don’t include us.”

We are scratching our heads too.

Texas aquaculture produces 98% of the redfish consumed in the United States. The vast majority of these fish are farmed in Matagorda, Jackson, Calhoun and Wharton counties.

When the winter frost hit, these Gulf Coast farmers were devastated and suffered losses estimated at tens of millions of dollars. Some farmers had to bury hundreds of thousands of fish in pits. Neither the ready-to-market fish nor the fry have been spared, meaning next year’s harvest has also been badly affected. The domestic supply of redfish in the United States was suddenly wiped out.

The United States Department of Agriculture has a disaster program like this in place. It’s called ELAP, and it provides up to $ 20 million in relief per year to livestock, bee and farmed fish producers affected by disasters, including “certain adverse weather events”.

If the February frost, which brought single-digit temperatures, layers of ice and several inches of snow to some rockfish farms, was not an “adverse weather event”, it’s hard to say what it was. is.

Oddly, ELAP payments are limited to fish raised for bait or game. But under federal rules, the Deputy Administrator of Agricultural Programs at the Farm Service Agency has the discretion to make other aquatic species eligible for relief as well.

So far Bradley Karmen, who holds the post at the FSA, has refused to do so. Shane Nicaud, executive director of Gulf States Aquaculture in Palacios, said state officials told him Karmen likely wouldn’t change his mind.

Instead, federal officials referred farmers to another program that only covers $ 125,000 in the event of a loss. A farmer facing foreclosure told The Advocate it was barely enough money to cover his losses in one pond.

Nicaud said there were bigger issues at stake. He believes that a decision with such big implications for the rockfish industry shouldn’t be at the sole discretion of one person. Nicaud also said that the $ 20 million allocated to ELAP is not enough to cover farmers’ losses and that additional funds are likely needed.

These are good points. Yet the lack of communication by federal officials is inexplicable.

“I had high hopes that it wouldn’t be as contradictory as it has been on their side, which just means a full and complete stop,” Nicaud said.

After a disaster, farmers shouldn’t have to fight, beg and cajole federal officials for the help they need to rebuild their operations and stay in business. The government should do everything it can to help, not ignore farmers and answer their questions.

Tens of millions of dollars in disaster aid may seem like a lot of money, until you remember Congress just passed a $ 1.9 trillion stimulus bill, so that the $ 2.2 trillion CARES bill and another $ 900 billion stimulus bill last year.

Money is not the issue here. The question is whether the government is ready to help, or whether it is just letting some farmers struggle to recover and take on more debt while others close their doors.

Nicaud said the farmers are reaching out to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to appeal Karmen’s decision.

Hopefully Vilsack will provide some answers.

This editorial reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate Editorial Board.

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