The Florida Aquaculture Association (FAA) was formed in 1983 to provide a united organization for Florida’s diverse and specialized aquatic farming commodities. Florida is the number one U.S. producer of tropical fish, clams, aquatic plants, live rock (cultivated coral) and alligators with total farm-gate sales of $101 million in 2005.
The mission of the Florida Aquaculture Association is to provide a unified voice for Florida aquaculture that ensures its sustainability, protects its profitability, and encourages its development in an environmentally responsible manner.
One of the first of FAA’s accomplishments was to draft, lobby, and get passed Florida’s Aquaculture Policy Act of 1984. This act created the Aquaculture Review Council and officially defined aquaculture as agriculture. Since 1983, FAA has been holding annual legislative receptions featuring a “Taste of Florida Aquaculture” products to familiarize our state legislators, their staff, the Cabinet, and Governor’s office with Florida’s aquatic farming industry. This event and others have made aquaculture a known word in Tallahassee and have been vital in enacting legislation to promote the growth of and reduce regulations on our industry. Over the last 4 years the legislature has appropriated $4.8 million to support new research and marketing programs for Florida’s expanding aquaculture industry.
FAA has hosted many major educational meetings by itself and with other national and international aquaculture groups in Florida since 1985. Today we continue to hold meetings amongst ourselves and with other national and international organizations when they meet in Florida. FAA often offers farm tours for a chance to educate others about Florida’s important aquaculture industry.
History of Accomplishments
In 1984, FAA helped draft, lobby, and get passed the Aquaculture Policy Act. This Act created the Aquaculture Review Council (ARC), which is our voice directly to the Commissioner of Agriculture.
In August 1985, FAA filed a legal challenge to an unconstitutional rule on behalf of clam farmers which eventually resulted in a new attitude towards clam leases and revision of Chapter 18-21 FAC allowing leases to be issued. Florida now has over 500 clam leases.
In 1985, FAA was able to include aquaculture in a rule revision of aquatic preserves and lobbied for the first ever permanent staff positions in the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (DACS) to support our industry.
In 1986, FAA pushed for the first ever Regulatory Sourcebook which started a long process of revising regulations to make them simpler, affordable, and based on common sense. FAA helped implement an aquatic animal health and diagnostic program in conjunction with Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (DACS). FAA proposed aquaculture be defined as agriculture. Other activities included: farm raised red drum were exempted from MFC rules; submitted a petition with over 160 names to the Cabinet of those interested in obtaining a lease; brought Department of Natural Resources (DNR) staff to an FAA Board meeting to discuss leases; and helped organize a Congressional hearing in Gainesville in April.
In 1987, FAA initiated a seminar series for producers which has since been picked up by other organizations. FAA participated in organizational meetings of National Aquaculture Association (NAA). FAA lobbying efforts resulted in strengthening Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ (DACS) role, exemption of aquaculture from occupational licensing, provision for fuel tax exemption for aquatic farmers, and inclusion of aquaculture in the Right to Farm Act.
In 1988, the Aquaculture Policy Act was renewed and aquaculture for the first time was partially considered agriculture. The first two new leases under the revised rule and statute were issued.
In 1989, FAA met with the head of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to set lease fees subsequently approved by the Governor and Cabinet, ending a six year process! FAA became a charter member of the National Aquaculture Association (NAA); opposed a state rule allowing the state to poison facilities if non-natives were found; and proposed legislation to segregate aquaculture from native (feral) wildlife laws, consolidate permitting , and establish strong anti-theft penalties. We supported a rule making tilapia hybrids easier to culture and opposed a rule requiring hybrid striped bass to be tagged. FAA supported establishment of the University of Florida Sam Mitchell Aquaculture Demonstration Farm, which was dedicated on Octobter 26, 1989, and recommended the first ever effluent study of aquaculture. FAA challenged the minimum size rule for clams in court.
In 1990, FAA hired a full time lobbyist for the first time and supported the Issues of Concern process of the ARC. Legislation further refined the definition of aquaculture favorably, sent the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) effluent study to DER, delegated permitting to the Water Management Districts, consolidated Florida Game and Fish Commission permitting, and defined aquaculture theft as grand theft.
In 1991, FAA participated in Governor Chile’s inauguration festival, received widespread publicity from aquaculture articles published in Florida Sportsman Magazine, proposed a separate office of aquaculture within Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (DACS), defeated both a shellfish surtax and aquatic plant tax, removed the six inch bottom restriction from shellfish leases and declared aquaculture to be in the public interest in aquatic preserves. A new marine life rule was enacted, and FAA worked to get aquaculture included in greenbelt laws.
In 1992, the first separate FAA Legislative Reception was held at Kay Young’s home, and the first FAA Auction was held in Cedar Key as part of FAA’s Annual Reunion. FAA requested the Department of Natural Resources to perform more water quality work in the Indian River to open up shellfish culture.
In 1993, Paul Norton of Ruskin, Florida, was elected president of the National Aquaculture Association (NAA), and the Legislature finally declared aquaculture to be agriculture, added all five Water Management Districts to the Aquaculture Review Council, and made further instructions on reforming and streamlining permitting.
In 1994, the General Permit system for aquaculture was enacted and lease rules were revised with no negative language being added or increase in fees due to FAA members’ persistence. After nine years the clam size rule was passed by the Cabinet finally resolving “who owns the clam”.
In 1995, marine aquaculture was considered by the Legislature due to a legislative report supported by FAA. FAA made active plans to develop and support major legislation proposed for 1996. A Legislative hearing in Cedar Key was organized and supported by FAA.
In 1996, FAA helped Rep. Bert Harris passed one of the most far-reaching pieces of aquaculture legislation in the nation: “Aquaculture IS Agriculture” was strengthened to the maximum, created the certification program replacing permits in Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (DACS), transferred all aquaculture authority to DACS, defined marine aquaculture, and accomplished a host of other things designed to encourage aquaculture and not unfairly regulate our business.
In 1997, the Legislature encouraged sturgeon farming, counties were prevented from charging additional fees for leases, and sales taxes for aquatic farmers were reduced or eliminated. The farm gate value of Aquaculture passed the $100 million mark for the first time in Florida.
The 1998 legislative session was another significant year for Florida’s aquaculture industry and included the establishment of the Division of Aquaculture within Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (DACS). The new division was directed by the Legislature to protect Florida’s environment and enhance industry growth. For the first time Florida aquaculturists could contact one office and get the answers and help to establish and operate a farm.
In 1999, FAA participated in the process of developing a wide variety of Best Management Practices (BMPs) to replace confusing and duplicative state permits and licenses issued by multiple agencies. Best Management Practices become the core elements of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ (DACS) annual certification program. Commercial fishers that are growing hard clams were allowed to use their farm gate income to meet the requirements to renew their Saltwater Product Licenses.
In 2000, the farm gate value of Florida aquaculture dips to $86 million but maintains a growth trend that began in 1987. Hard clam farming, as an industry segment, jumps to the number two spot over aquatic plants while tropical fish production remains number one in value even while suffering lower sales. FAA supports the creation of a national marketing campaign to boost tropical fish sales and aquarium keeping that is managed by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ (DACS) Bureau of Seafood and Aquaculture Marketing.
In 2001, FAA fights for limited state funding to support applied research to solve production and technical problems that is managed by the Aquaculture Review Council (ARC). The Association also supports the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (DACS) Division of Aquaculture and prevents position cuts that would cripple farm certification and inspection efforts. Certification continues to grow with 957 facilities certified as being in compliance with Best Management Practices designed to protect Florida’s fragile environment. FAA provided an industry perspective and recommendations to a multi-agency process to develop a Florida invasive species management
In 2002, nearly 200 people attended a Division sponsored shrimp farming workshop in Bartow. Attendees learned about production and technical information including aquaculture site evaluation, farm design and construction, management, disease control, and brood-stock selection. The aquaculture certification process was updated to include BMP requirements with input from Association members. 2002 was also the year that FAA’s first lobbyist Kay Young retired. The many FAA “Taste of Aquaculture” legislative receptions held in the Young’s backyard were always the highlight of the legislative session for our Association and many legislators and guest in Tallahassee. At FAA’s fall meeting Marty Tanner was elected President and served in that position for the coming 15 years.
In 2003, Governor Jeb Bush proposed to eliminate the Division of Aquaculture by cutting the staff from 54 to 3 and their budget would be cut from $4.9 million to less than $120,000. FAA sent numerous industry representatives to Tallahassee during this legislative session to educate them on how important the Division is to our industry and Florida’s economic growth. Through intense lobbying efforts by members of FAA and FTFFA in conjunction with the Florida Farm Bureau we were able to secure the necessary funding to keep intact the Division on Aquaculture.
In 2004, the US economy was coming out of a mini recession which had hit Florida’s aquaculture industry as well. The tropical fish industry started to see an increase in sales from the hit movie “Finding Nemo” and the launch of the Glo-fish. The 2004 legislature and the Governor’s office agreed to fully fund the Division recalling the fight the industry had put forward in 2003 to save the Division. For the second year FAA participated in the Florida Farm Bureau’s legislative reception held at the Tallahassee Convention Center. In the fall of 2004 FAA held a successful Fall Conference at the Ybor City Campus of HCC. Attendance was slightly down as a result of Florida being hit by 3 hurricanes in a 2 month period.
In 2005, FAA participated in a much needed fundraising activity by selling farm raised seafood at the Ruskin Seafood Festival. Nearly 18,000 people were exposed to sustainable Florida farm raised seafood products during the two day event. The 2005 legislative session was a success in that agriculture got a sales tax exemption on power farm equipment that includes air and water pumps. This exemption saves aquatic producers much needed money on their equipment to produce their aquatic crops.
In 2006, FAA launched its new website. In the fall of 2006, FAA hosted a fall conference at the Brandon Campus of HCC that included hands on workshops, CEU’s, and a reception at the Florida Aquarium including at tour of the new AquariuMania exhibit. The 2006 legislative session funded $1.1 million for ARC projects.
In 2007, the World Aquaculture Society held its annual meeting at Disney World and FAA was the State Association host. Attendees from all over the nation were able to take part in the Florida fish farm tours that showcased Florida’s diverse aquaculture industry. 2007 was also the year of a major economic recession that also affected the State budget including the Division of Aquaculture and the Tropical Aquaculture Laboratory funding for staff positions.
In 2008, FAA’s first lobbyist Kay Young rejoined our Association and we brought back the successful “Taste of Aquaculture” legislative reception in Kay’s backyard. During the 2008 legislative reception $3.6 million was allocated to aquaculture including ARC projects, funding for the TAL, and for the alligator marketing and education program. We were also successful to defeat an attempt to remove all sales tax exemptions for aquatic farms. FAA also worked to ensure aquaculture farms regardless of size would be eligible for Greenbelt Tax Assessment. We also lobbied hard to assure that IFAS funding is protected.
In 2009, we were successful in obtaining funding for the TAL and FAME programs however the legislature did not fund the 2010-11 ARC projects. The Working Waterfronts Amendment that was passed by Florida’s voters in 2008 was a major issue for Florida’s aquaculture industry. FAA joined with the Save Our Working Waterfronts Coalitions to provide property tax relief for land used in an aquaculture operation. Once again we had to defend and protect sales tax exemption for those involved in aquaculture. With the ARC funding fell victim to the budget crisis. FAA was one of a number of many agriculture organizations that were opposing stiff US EPA water quality standards of phosphorous and nitrogen in discharged water. The proposed EPA standards would be the death of Florida’s aquaculture industry if adopted as proposed.
In 2010, we loss a long time Director and previous President of FAA Frank Hoff. , FAA established “Frank Hoff Memorial Education Fund” that individuals can contribute to, to give grants to public schools that have ongoing aquaculture course to acquire supplies and livestock for class work. FAA continued to participate in the Florida’s Farm Bureau legislative reception at the Tallahassee Civic Center to make legislators and their staff aware of our industry. During the legislative session we had success in keeping funding for the Ruskin Lab and the FAME program, however due to a tight State budget no ARC projects were funded.
In 2012, we retained Joe Spratt as our new lobbyist. We were successful in getting the 2012-13 ARC projects funded for a total of $652,881. We were also successful in getting the removal of the prohibition to sell water hyacinth out of state; eliminating the agriculture fee for school aquaculture programs and transfer funding the TAL to the IFAS budget. FAA’s commodity representatives also provided input to the Division to update the Florida Aquaculture Plan for 2012-13. FAA joined with NAA to sponsor a Business Management and Marketing Workshop at the USF/St. Pete Campus in conjunction with the Annual Conference of the Florida Marine Science Educators Association. This workshop was part of an ARC approved project for 2011-12 that included numerous speakers addressing current aquaculture production projects underway in Florida.
In 2013, FAA had awarded nearly $10,000 in scholarship and classroom grants since the establishment of the Florida Aquaculture Education and Scholarship Fund. In fall of 2013 FAA hosted a one day “Introduction into Aquaponics” workshop in Winter Haven with over seventy individuals in attendance. The successful workshop also included a field trip to an aquaponics facility in Dade City.
In 2014, the Florida Farm Bureau moved its Annual Agriculture Legislative Reception to the Capital Courtyard and FAA again participated in this popular venue to showcase our industry. FAA was successful in securing the full funding of the research and education projects approved by the ARC and protecting the $850,000 for IFAS Aquaculture Extension Programs. Unfortunately a Bill to expand sales tax exemption for certain items including oxygen did not pass.
In 2015, the legislature was successful again in getting the ARC projects for 2015-16 fully funded and funding for IFAS were left fully funded and intact after some lengthy lobbying efforts. Also the Florida Alligator Marketing and Education Program was fully funded. FAA was also successful in getting the term “livestock” in state statue to include all aquaculture products.
In 2016, FAA lobbyist were successful in obtaining $653,000 for ARC projects approved in the final budget, however the Governor used his line item veto authority to cut some $256 million in the approved budget including the ARC funding request. After the session several FAA members met with the Governor’s staff to inform them of the importance of the ARC projects to Florida’s aquaculture industry. On the positive side a mechanical harvesting bill for shellfish was passed. In June FAA exhibited at the Florida FFA Convention and Trade Show with a new exhibit display to promote the newly launched Aquaculture Education Certification Program sponsored by FAA.
In 2017, Florida’s aquaculture industry-legislatively speaking- had some victories and losses. For the second year in a row ARC projects were not included in the approved budgets. On a positive note we were successful in getting a sales tax exemption for animal health products. This amounts to a state wide $2.3 million tax savings on prescription and non-prescription animal health products used by the livestock industry, including aquaculture producers. This will save tropical fish farmers a considerable amount of money. Once again, we were unable to get sales tax exemption for oxygen used on fish farms. In summer of 2017 the FAA sponsored Aquaculture Education Certification Program saw the first of 10 students take and pass the online exam. FAA sent letters to numerous Congressional leaders in support of the Save America’s Vulnerable Endangered Species Act. The SAVE Act would eliminate regulation of farm raised non-native species and would protect the US and Florida’s non-native surgeon industry. At the end of 2017 the Federal Legislative was still pending before Congress.