LAFAYETTE, LA (February 2, 2011)—The Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board' s campaign to improve the perception of the delicacies caught in local waters should make Madison Avenue take notice and, what's more, consume them without fear of contamination.
With a budget of $30 million bankrolled with reparation money from BP in varying annual allotments, the board plans to take its message and at least one of state's top chefs on the road to food shows in Boston, Chicago and Brussels, Belgium, as well as the Kentucky Derby and Washington, D.C., Chairman Harlon Pearce said.
Pearce owns Harlon's Louisiana Seafood, a wholesale processor and distributor in Kenner.
Plans also include attending the upcoming Miami Food and Wine Show and the Great American Seafood Cookoff in late summer in New Orleans when chefs from all over come to challenge the Cypress Chefs.
The point is to spiff up the board's food booths and every soap box and bully pulpit — from local farmers' markets to the Food Network — to explain to the public Louisiana's seafood is not only tasty, but there is none anywhere that is tested more rigorously, Pearce said.
No campaign would be complete without a dedicated mode of conveyance, and this one calls for the Cajun Express RV.
"That's going to be part of our road show, and we'll travel around the country," he added.
The wait is on, however, to see what the spring harvest will produce, said Frank Randol, who owns Randol's restaurant and processing plant on Kaliste Saloom Road. So far, the shrimp reefs and shoals appear promising.
"Crabs lay their eggs on oyster reefs, and we're seeing them grow," Randol said. "They wouldn't be on those reefs if the oysters were not alive. The whole ecosystem revolves around reefs and wetlands."
The cold weather has hampered the growth of crawfish, but industry veterans aren't writing off that season, either. Before the spill, seafood meant $2.1 billion to the state's economy and represented 50,000 jobs, but the numbers are expected to be down this year. So also is the count of fishermen ready to go back into the waters. There were 16,000 before Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and afterward, there were about 12,000. Estimates are there might a little more than half that number this season.
The marketing board recently released the results of study that tracked consumer attitudes on Gulf seafood safety following the oil spill.
Surveyed in the early weeks of the spill, slightly more than 50 percent said they ate less seafood as a result of disaster. That fraction increased to more than 60 percent by July and fell to 48 percent by October.
Plans have not been completely finalized, but the money will be routed in increments of $5 million to $10 million from the oil giant to the board via the state Wildlife and Fisheries Foundation. An initial payment of $2 million already has been collected, and another $10 million is expected to come within a week or so, Pearce said.
Following BP's calamitous blowout in the Gulf in April that left 11 dead and gushed millions of gallons of crude into the water, there were areas closed to fishing for nearly the entire summer. There was also a fear seafood would be contaminated by the dispersants used to break up the oil.
Fresh water was allowed into inlets containing saltwater oyster beds. Although it was known the shellfish would die, it halted the spread of the oil.
Less than a year after the disaster struck, there may be more money available to the marketing board once assessments are made under the penalty phase of the BP settlement.
"Out of adversity comes opportunity," Pearce said.
On top of changing consumers' attitudes, the board wants to launch an effort to improve and rate the quality of catches, such as countries such as Japan do.
"We want to produce a base level of quality for certification," Pearce said. "Customers will line up and want to pay more money for quality."