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Cash flow woes at Fellsmere shrimp farm

FELLSMERE — Vero News got a call this morning from an employee of Florida Organic Aquaculture who said employees there had not been paid in six weeks and that some had stopped coming to work.

“When we ask the owner about it, he says he is waiting on foreign money,” said the caller, who asked to remain anonymous. “People here think we have been in business long enough we ought to be operating on our own money, not waiting for grants or more foreign investments.”

After Vero News contacted the company, it issued a press release, acknowledging that no workers or managers had been paid for six weeks but also stating it had received an infusion of foreign capital and that a majority of what was owed to workers was finally paid today (Friday afternoon).

All staff received two-thirds of their back pay, “with the balance being paid next week if the remainder of this capital transfer comes through, which it should since the first portion came through this morning,” said Clifford Morris, president and founder of Florida Organic Aquaculture.

Morris said many of his own bills were not paid because he wanted to use any available cash to help pay workers.

“The loyalty we have with the staff is because of a high level of transparency and disclosure. I exhaust every resource I have, personal and company, before we don’t pay staff,” Morris said. “My wife keeps what she calls her ‘emergency account’ for cash should any of the children need to go to hospital or some other event. This is an untouchable account by her standards, yet she gave me that money to keep the wages flowing before we ran dry.”

Even with the delay of the investor funds, the company has no plans to suspend operations, and claims it will move forward with its next phase of expansion within the year. Florida Organic Aquaculture began producing shrimp for commercial consumption in May 2014, and recently completed construction of a second large building, which will double production.

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