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HomeNewsArchivesLoan Authorization for Aquaculture Project Passes One Senate Test

Loan Authorization for Aquaculture Project Passes One Senate Test

Aug. 19, 2008 — The Senate Economic Development and Agriculture Committee voted out of committee Tuesday a bill authorizing the Public Finance Authority to tender a bridge loan of $34.3 million to Crucian Holdings for a large-scale tilapia (fish) and shrimp farming operation on St. Croix.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste, would simply authorize the PFA to give the loan. It would not direct or require the PFA to tender the loan.
"I believe this bill offers significant economic benefits to the territory," Baptiste said. "It is no secret tilapia has been a success at UVI, but the focus has been mostly on research rather than commercial development."
Farming fish on St. Croix would help the territory come a little closer to meeting its own food needs, he argued. And if the territory doesn't meet its needs, someone else will.
"Even as we speak, on the neighboring island of St. Lucie they are developing a shrimp and tilapia facility," Baptiste said.
Representatives of Crucian Holdings gave extensive testimony on the merits of fish farming,
"This year, 2008, for the first time more than 50 percent of the worldwide seafood consumption will come from aquaculture," said Richard Bourne-Vanneck, manager and legal counsel for Crucian Holdings. At its peak, the planned facility would have upwards of 300 employees and generate millions in tax revenues, he said.
Ponds would be dug on 140 acres of land in Estate Diamond and the topsoil given to the Department of Agriculture. Waste from the fish farm would also be composted for agriculture. Along with the fish farm and a seafood-processing center, Crucian Holdings envisions a chain of Crucian-themed franchise fast food and Crucian products outlets.
Testifying against the bill was James Rakocy, professor of aquaculture at the UVI Agricultural Experiment Station.
"With my 28 years in aquaculture, I have strong desire to see an aquaculture project on St. Croix," he said. "However, my 28 years in aquaculture leaves me to question the viability of this plan."
Rakocy questioned whether the project could produce as much fish and shrimp as its promoters claim, and raised the possibility of a salt-water pond leaking, contaminating the island's limited water table. And he questioned the wisdom of providing such a large loan.
"Shrimp farming is a risky business," he said, citing a string of large-scale operations that have gone bankrupt.
The PFA submitted a written statement on the bill, endorsing the idea of aquaculture but advising against a loan.
"While the government has demonstrated its commitment to economic development on the Island of St. Croix," the PFA's statement reads, "and is committed to assisting this important and dynamic project, the PFA does not have $34.3 million of uncommitted resources available at this time for a direct loan to Crucian Holdings."
Voting yea on the bill were Baptiste, Sens. Basil Ottley and Shawn-Michael Malone. Sen. James Weber III voted nay. Sen. Usie Richards abstained. Absent were Sen. Terrence "Positive" Nelson and Ronald Russell. Richards and Weber both said the bill would receive close scrutiny at its next stop, the Committee on Rules and Judiciary.
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