During the farm bill debate, Crawford remained rigidly in support of USDA catfish inspections. This was despite pointed criticism from fellow Republicans.

“We were successful during the conference committee in protecting the provision (calling for USDA inspections). We were successful largely due to (Mississippi) Sen. Thad Cochran’s leadership. The catfish producers want the USDA inspections over the FDA.

“They produce a better quality product, a safe product, and they want consumers to know that what they’re eating is, in fact, catfish. They want the consumer to know that it’s American-produced and there’s a high degree of safety and phyto-sanitary protocols being followed.”

Now, another issue is dogging the aquaculture industry: the Lacey Act. Enacted in 1900, the Lacey Act regulates interstate game and fish shipments. Even inadvertent violations could cost individuals up to $250,000 and organizations up to $500,000.

“Imagine that a single fish, or even fish egg, legal to possess in one state, is inadvertently loaded with a 2,000-pound truckload of other fish sold to a producer in another state where that accidental fish or egg is illegal,” reads an article by Elizabeth Rumley, senior staff attorney at the National Agricultural Law Center at the University of Arkansas. “Once that shipment crosses the state line, both the buyer and seller can be prosecuted. … Had the shipper or buyer known the illegal nature of the errant fish or the value of the wildlife was more than $350, then they could be prosecuted under the law’s felony provisions -- meaning up to five years in prison and/or a $250,000 fine.”

A bill introduced by Crawford of Arkansas, the Aquaculture Risk Reduction Act (H.R. 3105), would amend the 114-year-old law so that it would no longer apply to animals accidentally included in shipments of aquatic species that are commercially produced for human consumption or recreational and ornamental purposes.

“The Lacey Act is a problem for transporting fish over state lines,” said Crawford. “Maybe you’ll inadvertently have an egg, or two, in a shipment of fish. If discovered, the Lacey Act may rain down on you with a six-figure fine and prison time.

“We’re just saying, ‘Look, let’s be realistic in the application of the Lacey Act.’ It’s a very old piece of legislation and the intent wasn’t to punish baitfish producers or aquaculture producers that need to transport their products across state lines.”

Queried on the importance of agriculture research funding, Crawford said it is a major concern. “As someone from the Delta, we rely heavily on the research being done at MSU, LSU and the University of Arkansas. We aren’t alone -- land-grants are vital across the country in making sure our ag producers have the latest innovations and so research and development must continue on a broad scale. That’s critical.

“We must maintain pace. Not only must we feed 300 million people in this country but the world relies heavily on (U.S. farmers) as well. We can’t do that without the investment.

“We do have finite resources so that’s a challenge. But we do need to continue to find ways to facilitate that research.”