Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Persistence Pays off for Shrimping Advocates; Equitable Funding Split Their Goal

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Persistence Pays off for Shrimping Advocates; Equitable Funding Split Their Goal

Article excerpt

Byline: Christopher F. Aguilar, Shorelines staff writer

When Mayport shrimper Barbara Hopton and advocate Janie Thomas went to Tallahassee last month to speak to the Legislative Budget Commission about the distribution of federal aid to Florida's shrimpers, they had been warned it was a lost cause.

The women spoke about how the small shrimp boat owner wouldn't see much of the $6.7 million allocated by Congress in February to help the struggling industry. They said a decision made in March by a "hand-picked" group from the shrimp industry to divide the money by the amount of shrimp caught, instead of being distributed equally, would benefit only a select group in the industry.

"From Fernandina Beach to Pensacola, small boats have not been fairly represented in this process," Thomas, of Fernandina Beach, told the state budget commission on Oct. 24. "We believe the funds should have been divided fairly and equally."

But Hopton and Thomas succeeded when the budget commission agreed to stop the money's distribution until all of Florida's shrimpers can meet and determine how it should be distributed. That meeting has been scheduled for Monday in Kissimmee. Once a decision is made, the budget commission will authorize the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to disburse the money.

"We are very excited to go against the big boys and get them to question things," said Thomas, past president of the Organized Fishermen of Florida and a member of the Florida East Coast Shrimp Producers. "They told us to be ready for disappointment and we were very successful."

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration awarded a $6.7 million grant in July to the Conservation Commission to provide financial assistance to shrimpers, who have faced economic hardship because of the influx of farm-raised shrimp imports and cold weather. The money is part of a $35 million economic assistance package approved by Congress for shrimpers from North Carolina to Texas. …

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