Woman of the Year in Agriculture

Sandra Moore a Staunch Advocate of the Tropical Fish Industry


Since she was 7 years old, Sandra Moore knew there was something a little fishy about her life.

That hunch was right and what began as a little girl catching mollies and other tropical fish in ditches in southern Hillsborough County pooled into a successful career in the Central Florida tropical fish industry. 

In April, Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Wilton Simpson and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services announced Moore as the 2024 Woman of the Year in Agriculture. Moore is the first award recipient from the tropical fish industry. 

Her success started in 1992, when she began her career in the aquatics industry at Gibsonton’s Segrest Farms, one of the largest ornamental fish wholesalers in the world. By 2015, she became president of Segrest and had worked to develop the company’s best management practices that have set an industry standard.

During a break in a recent workday, Moore reflected on her 30-plus years in the tropical fish industry, what’s next and what her recent accolade means to her and Segrest Farms. She said it was a big leap from when her mother, Peggy, began working at Segrest Farms shortly after the family moved from Iowa to Ruskin when Moore was a young girl.

“I used to catch mollies and other fish in ditches from around the farm and at 10, I’d catch snakes and sell them to Mr. Segrest for $5 a foot. When I was 14, I started making boxes for him to keep fish in. I worked the summers washing tanks,” she says. 

After graduating from East Bay High School in 1985, Moore went to work for The Dun & Bradstreet Corporation in customer service in third-party group health insurance. 

“I went from being a barefoot girl in Ruskin to a professional woman and used some of that corporate experience when I came back here (Segrest Farms) as a secretary to the bookkeeper about 33 years ago,” she says.

Moore says the area’s tropical fish industry was “very different” when she started, and she’s seen its image sharpen in the past three decades.

“It was a very different industry back then; it was dirty and kind of backwards but there were parts I loved. I loved the animals and I’ve always related a lot more to animals sometimes than I do to humans,” she adds. 

Moore now helps coordinate and run business at Segrest Farms, working with about 120 employees in Gibsonton and 500 nationwide who work as drivers and other staff in Georgia, Connecticut, and Oklahoma. She says she’s grateful to be the first person from the tropical fish industry to be chosen as the Woman of the Year in Agriculture. She says of about 100 fish farms in the Tampa Bay area, she knows of no other female farm presidents. 

“It brings me to my knees; I’m grateful to represent these guys (tropical fish farmers) because they’re extraordinary – these people are ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps’ Florida farmers who need to be recognized as equals to those in food agriculture,” she says. 

Of her many accomplishments, Moore is proud to have worked last year to voice opposition to a proposed “whitelist” of approved tropical fish species in a tier system that could have put Segrest Farms and other fish farms out of business. Currently, the farms have their own “blacklist” system that works to keep invasive species out of aquaculture in Florida. 

At the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission meeting in May, the National Aquaculture Association reported an estimated 199,000 species would be prohibited by the proposed rule. Moore says it would be cost-prohibitive to challenge each species.

“It was to protect our abilities to do business in the State of Florida and the United States,” she says.

It’s Moore’s involvement in the industry that makes her stand out, Simpson says. 

“I am so pleased to announce Sandra Moore as this year’s Woman of the Year in Agriculture, and I am even more excited to share that she is the first winner of this award to represent the tropical fish industry,” Simpson said in a written statement. “Sandra is a vital member of not only the ornamental fish industry, but the aquaculture and pet industry nationwide, and we are proud to honor her with this award.”

Although she’s worked in the tropical fish industry for more than three decades, at 57, Moore says retirement isn’t in the near future. She says she won’t be as involved in day-to-day operations and will focus more on lobbying efforts for the fish industry.

“I’m stepping back a little bit,  not pulling the crazy hours,” she says. “I have so many talented people around me who allow me to spend time at the capitol defending our right to do business.”

“I don’t know if people retire out of agriculture; it doesn’t happen very often, does it?” she quips.

Since 1985, the “Woman of the Year in Agriculture” award has been given out by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services in conjunction with the Florida State Fair Authority who presents the award during the Florida State Fair in Tampa in February. The women have come from all parts of the agriculture industry, including cattle, vegetables, timber, citrus, row crops, equine, horticulture, tropical fruits, sugar cane, dairy, agricultural journalism and agricultural education and outreach.

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