Study reveals La's resilient seafood industry could use more support from economic development efforts
A number of Louisiana's chefs are internationally recognized for their skill in enhancing traditionally Southern meals with additions of regional seafood that's been prepared in the unique cooking styles associated with Cajun, Creole, and West African cultures.
So, it's no surprise that Louisiana has become the nation's second-largest distributor of seafood by volume.
What may come as a surprise, however, is The Advocate's recent report of Louisiana's seafood industry suffering major challenges and yet often remaining overlooked by state leaders as economic development initiatives are handed out to other industries.
The focal point of The Advocate's report centered around a recent University of Louisiana at Lafayette study led by Geoff Stewart with UL’s Moody College of Business, the Meridian Institute, LSU Ag Center and the Louisiana Sea Grant.
The three organizations partnered to come up with an economic development strategy for Louisiana's seafood industry, and the study was the final product of their research effort.
Stewart explained the industry's resilience despite being a sort of 'wallflower at the school dance' when it comes to being overlooked by state and parish leaders as economic stimulus initiatives are doled out to contemporaries.
Stewart implied that Louisiana's ability to maintain its reputation as a top tier industry provider is partially due to its unique cultural identity.
“On the strength side, it can't be mentioned enough the cultural significance of this industry,” Stewart said. “Seafood is a big attraction. The industry gets leverage, but the industry doesn't necessarily get the attention that it necessarily deserves to expand.
According to The Advocate, in 2019 Louisiana produced 6.4 million pounds of oysters ($7.10 per pound), 81 million pounds of shrimp ($1.44 per pound), 19.5 million pounds of finfish ($1.03 per pound) and over 35 million pounds of crabs ($1.39 per pound) for US consumption.
Though last year's numbers were impressive, 2020 brought a slew of issues to the table, including the COVID-19 pandemic and a record-breaking hurricane season.
Mitch Jurisich, chairman of the Louisiana Oyster Task Force and third-generation oyster farmer from Plaquemines Parish highlighted these challenges as he explained to The Advocate that he and his Task Force colleagues are in the process of collaborating with other seafood agencies to become a stronger voice as they advocate for their industry's needs.
“What’s happened is — especially in the oyster industry — we’re losing sight of what we need to do,” Jurisich said. “Some of our state agencies are starting to focus on other things. We’re getting lost in the mix a little bit. As important as we are, we’re having a lot of issues. We’re having to prove ourselves time and time again. We feel like we’re not being heard as loudly as we need to be.”
The study had three major aims for the industry: to increase participation in local, state, and federal issues that impact its future, to create venues in which to develop and establish strategies that will allow the industry to successfully navigate future hurdles, and to encourage proactive engagement with economic development agencies, as such regular interaction would likely increase access needed capital.
The third goal is already making headway with some local agencies stepping up to the plate and actively working to make these sorts of relationships possible. For example, The Advocate notes that according to Jerry Bologna, President and CEO of the Jefferson Parish Economic Development Commission, officials with this organization are in the final stages of setting up a fisherman fund.
The study also hopes its research will contribute to the implementation of plans that will highlight the stories of individual businesses, and in so doing ensure that Louisiana's fascinating culture remains a centerpiece of the seafood industry.
The goals UL and its partnering organizations hope to achieve will impact a lot of people in Louisiana. According to the Louisiana Seafood Promotion & Marketing Board, one out of every 70 jobs in Louisiana is related to the seafood industry, which as a whole has an economic impact of over $2.4 billion annually for Louisiana.
“A lot of people benefit from what we do,” Jurisich told The Advocate. “We need to protect our state's most valuable resource. We’ve seen what’s happened with the oil and gas. It’s declining now. It’s not a renewable resource. Seafood is a renewable resource, especially in south Louisiana.”
Not only do the livelihoods of numerous fisherman, farmers, and restaurateurs depend on the success of the seafood industry, but the many fans of authentic Louisiana seafood dishes hope to see the industry continue to thrive and produce some of the best food on the planet.