The BP oil spill’s impact on Louisiana’s fisheries remains a leading issue for the state’s seafood business, but the industry sees itself as past the panic stage and poised for action. The Louisiana Seafood Stakeholder Summit, held Wednesday in Houma, Louisiana, provided a forum for the state’s commercial fishermen, seafood processors, distributors, and retailers to assess the state of the industry and consider its next moves.
“We all know the challenge and now our goal is to recover the market, to get back to being number one again,” said Mike Voisin, oyster processor and member of the Louisiana Oyster Task Force, about the dilemma of an industry facing both low supply and low demand. Official data measuring Louisiana’s seafood catch since the spill are still being analyzed, but many fishermen see a drop in production since the spill. In addition, recent market research indicates that even now, more than a year after BP capped its well, many seafood consumers are still concerned about the safety of Gulf seafood and are choosing to buy alternatives.
Participants at the Summit overwhelmingly agreed that the solution to low demand lies in getting the message out that Louisiana seafood is safe to eat. “The bottom line is there are no contaminants. We’re not even remotely close to the levels of concern set by the FDA,” said Randy Pausina, Assistant Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. Pausina noted that LDWF began testing shortly after the spill and has continued weekly since.
The most recent consumer research presented at the Summit by the Gulf Seafood Marketing Coalition provided further insight into the habits of Louisiana seafood consumers. The findings included some good news for the state. When consumers think of Gulf seafood, New Orleans and Louisiana come to mind first. Shrimp, abundant in Louisiana, was ranked the most popular seafood.
However, Louisiana ranks only fifth in U.S. consumers’ preference for the source of their seafood, according to Joanne McNeely of the Gulf Seafood Marketing Coalition, after Alaska, Maine, the Northeast U.S. and the Pacific Coast. “We need them to see the Gulf of Mexico in the same way they see Alaska.” Voisin agreed. “We need to promote our incredible seafood and let people learn that we are the best. Alaska has spent a significant amount telling people how good they are, and people generally believe what they hear. So, we need to get out there and tell people how good we really are. Once they taste it, they can’t deny it, but we need to tell them”.
McNeely recommended targeting a particular market segment labeled “seafoodies,” who consume seafood 20 or more times in a ninety-day period. Although they make up only 22% of the seafood-eating market, seafoodies consume 46% of seafood sold in the U.S.
Later the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board, sponsor of the Summit, gave a preview of a new marketing campaign designed to restore consumer confidence and build a brand identity for Louisiana seafood. “Demand Louisiana Wild Seafood” is the campaign, to be rolled out in-state initially.