Collaboration to Restore Faith in Gulf Seafood

by / Louisiana Seafood News on June 1, 2011

A five-state Gulf seafood coalition — with members from Louisiana, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi and Texas — is seeking strength in numbers.

Members of the coalition represent every sector that touches seafood -- from tourism to restaurateurs.

The group, called the Gulf Seafood Marketing Coalition, aims to work together to rebuild and enhance the image of Gulf seafood, much like the campaigns for beef, pork and milk have famously done in the past. Its members range from seafood processors to grocery-store executives to restaurateurs.

Collective effort may be just the ticket.

A year after the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the seafood industry here has struggled to rebound from a sullied image, despite being the most rigorously tested seafood on the marketplace and showing no signs of contaminants.

Yet the public continues to shy away from Gulf seafood. A recent, informal USA Today online poll showed that 59% of its readers still aren’t eating Gulf seafood.

“If we can attack the problem collectively, we have a much better chance than we do individually,” said Louisiana Lt. Governor Jay Dardenne. “We’ve got to get everyone to recognize that this is a rising tide for all ships. We’re on those ships. So it’s in our best interest” to unify, he said.

One by one, at a recent coalition meeting, members around the table talked about current state-wide efforts to rebuild the brand image of Gulf seafood.

Ewell Smith spoke of the efforts of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board in rebranding its state’s seafood, exploring new markets in Europe, moving toward certified wild-caught seafood and launching a seafood fitness challenge.

If all goes as planned, the five-state coalition will provide an additional layer of support to Louisiana’s current efforts.

Joanne McNeely, seafood marketing coordinator for the Gulf & South Atlantic Fisheries Foundation

“We don’t want to overlap, but to strengthen each others efforts,” said Joanne McNeely, who serves on the staff of the Gulf & South Atlantic Fisheries Foundation, which oversees the funding of the coalition.

The group’s next steps will hinge on the outcome of an eight-week market research project, an effort that will help the group understand why consumers are still shying away and what it would take to bring them back to Gulf seafood. The results of the research will be unveiled at the coalition’s next meeting in August, in conjunction with the Great American Seafood Cook-Off.

One of the group’s biggest hurdles will be knocking away the misconceptions many Americans still have about Gulf seafood. For example, some people believe that Gulf fishermen were permitted to fish when oil was present in the water — though, in fact, fishing waters were only reopened once an area had been cleared of oil and tested for safety.

Chef Brian Landry of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board noted that once people see pristine Gulf seafood and taste it for themselves, they realize just how good it is. That’s one reason he’s now serving as an “ambassador” for Gulf seafood.

“Putting a plate of seafood in front of someone goes a long way toward changing minds,” said Landry.

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