The $93.2 billion budget passed by the Legislature last week includes more than $400 million in spending tied to appropriations requests filed by lawmakers.
The Animal Rights Foundation of Florida on Monday asked Gov. Ron DeSantis to scratch out one of the line items — a $1.5 million appropriation for Sturgeon Aquafarms.
The funding, originally requested by Sen. George Gainer, would be used to restore the Jackson County-based sturgeon farm, which has been struggling since Hurricane Michael tore through Northwest Florida a year and a half ago.
The Bascom operation is unique in that it’s the only aquafarm in the U.S. to be licensed and authorized by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to grow, harvest, and export beluga sturgeon.
For the uninitiated, beluga sturgeon are native to the Caspian and Black seas and are the source of beluga caviar — the most prized variety of fish roe.
But ARFF says now is not the time for caviar.
“It is not a wise use of the public’s money to support a for-profit caviar producer that has a Madison Avenue storefront,” said ARFF Campaigns Coordinator Nick Atwood. “We hope that Governor DeSantis will reject this ridiculous appropriation.”
The advocacy also described the farm’s practices: “At Sturgeon Aquafarms in Bascom, Florida, more than 40,000 sturgeon are confined inside 100 tanks. The large, slow-growing fish spend years swimming endless circles before the females reach maturity. They are then cut open and their eggs removed to be sold as caviar.”
ARFF’s plea comes as Florida likely faces a downturn in state revenues due to the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Top lawmakers say the state has enough money in reserves to weather the storm. Others, including Rep. Ben Diamond, have asked the Cabinet to call an emergency meeting to address the fiscal impact of the virus.
Diamond urged the statewide elected officials to “take immediate action with our state agencies to explore all possible ways to slow spending, conserve cash, and freeze new hiring.”