Southeast Florida Roundup
Under water: Shrimp farmer faces a big problem
Shrimp farmer Florida Organic Aquaculture files for bankruptcy protection.
Aquaculture farmers may work with water instead of dirt, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a tough row to hoe.
One of Florida’s highest profile aquaculture ventures, restaurant-grade shrimp farmer Florida Organic Aquaculture [“Finny Business,” October 2016, FloridaTrend] in Fellsmere in Indian River County, won accolades from the governor, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, visiting dignitaries from South Africa, the local business community and the aquaculture industry after opening a four-acre, state-of-the-art facility in 2014. The company touted a method that promised colossal fresh shrimp, never frozen, and yields far outstripping the industry standard. But this year, it is seeking to reorganize under U.S. Bankruptcy Court protection.
With court approval, Florida Organic Aquaculture retained Maryland advisory firm Equity Partners HG to help it find an investor, partner or buyer. Equity Partners projects the shrimp farm could grow revenue to $34 million in five years, from its current $3 million.
Florida Organic, in its bankruptcy filing, lists $13.4 million in assets, including $41,493 in shrimp, and $11.8 million in liabilities. Founder and President Clifford R. Morris says that while under court protection, the farm continues operating, though on a reduced scale. He says the company’s infrastructure is complete, but the company needs money — no more than $2 million — for working capital. The extended time it took to scale “academiasized success” to commercial feasibility burned through capital, he says.
“One thing that would be depressing is if some foreign buyer bought the business and all my blood, sweat and tears would be lost to a foreign country,” he says. “As well as all the intellectual property and, of course, money. We really needed this to be saved for aquaculture in the USA.”
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