By Veronica Del Bianco
The 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico drew the nation’s attention to the plight of the coast’s fishermen. Between natural and man-made disasters — plus the ever-increasing popularity of cheap imported seafood — local fishermen have suffered economically over the past decade.
That’s one reason leaders from 24 states, representing U.S. seafood industry organizations, held a recent meeting in Seattle to form the National Seafood Marketing Coalition.
A number of regional seafood-industry organizations already exist, such as the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board. What’s different about this new coalition is that it crosses state lines to bring together expertise from Alaska to the Gulf of Mexico.
More expertise means an industry better equipped to spur demand and sustain growth.
“It’s in the best interest of the U.S. to maintain a strong seafood industry for job growth,” says Bruce Schactler, director of the coalition, which was founded by leaders of the Alaskan seafood industry after a successful five-year pilot program there.
“Industry-wide marketing efforts will grow demand for seafood, increase its value, grow the economy, increase jobs in the industry and increase tax revenues.”
According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, in 2008 the U.S. commercial seafood industry generated approximately $104 billion in sales, $45 billion in income, and supported 1.5 million jobs.
One of the coalition’s first orders of business: setting up a National Seafood Marketing Fund (NSMF) with $100 million per year going toward growing consumer demand for domestic seafood.
The fund would be distributed among five proposed regional marketing boards — Western Pacific (Hawaii)/Alaska, Pacific, Gulf/Caribbean, NE Atlantic/Great Lakes and SE/Mid-Atlantic. Members appointed to each of the boards would represent a cross-section of all aspects of the U.S. seafood industry.
Each region will manage funds through a grant process, ensuring local control.
“The regions are different,” says Schactler, “so the priorities are different.”
Several potential funding sources are under consideration, including import duties on fish products, anti‐dumping and countervailing duties on fish products, and oil production revenues. The latter — a portion of the revenues collected on oil production — seems most appropriate at present, while the seafood industry continues to struggle in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
“We are fighting are to counteract the images, more than the oil spill itself. Anything associated with the Gulf — its image, reputation and the brand — are tarnished,” says Chris Nelson of Bon Secour Fisheries, a seafood processing and wholesale company that his family has owned and operated in Alabama for over 100 years.
Nelson, who belongs to the Gulf/Caribbean branch of the newly formed coalition, supports the coalition and its goal of securing long-term financing for the NSMF.
He points out that if the Gulf states share the cost of research, surveys and marketing, everyone can gain the information they need at fraction of the cost, without duplicating time or energy.
“If the Gulf states collaborate on a Gulf seafood promotion, it will have more impact,” says Nelson. “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
Photos by Ewell Smith