(07/22/2022) JEANERETTE, La. — The LSU AgCenter and Louisiana Sea Grant showcased a new Seafood Processing Demonstration Laboratory at the AgCenter Iberia Research Station.
On July 19, the organizations hosted a ribbon cutting for the facility located at 603 LSU Bridge Road in Jeanerette, Louisiana. The facility will offer seafood processors hands-on training with equipment that can be used to create value-added seafood products and add marketability to what is being caught in Louisiana’s coastal and inland waters.
The facility is the first of its kind in the nation, according to Evelyn Watts, LSU AgCenter and Louisiana Sea Grant seafood extension specialist. She and Thomas Hymel, LSU AgCenter and Louisiana Sea Grant marine agent, had the idea for the facility two and half years ago and were instrumental in bringing it to fruition.
“We are an example for Louisiana, the Gulf Coast and the rest of the country,” Watts said. “The idea of the facility is that we can use it as a demonstration lab for people who want to start a seafood processing business. We can show them what type of equipment, with what layout, how to pack and how to freeze. We can also do this for existing facilities that need training for their employees or their managers on how to do things. We are looking to work with seafood technology and also with seafood safety.”
Hymel serves as director of Louisiana Fisheries Forward, a voluntary educational program for commercial fishermen with the goal of improving the economic success of Louisiana’s commercial fishing industry. During his 37 years in his position, he has helped the Louisiana Gulf Coast’s commercial fishing industry tread water amid natural disasters and the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s a billion-dollar industry,” Hymel said. “There’s so much demand for the product that we have. Now, there are new ways to package it, freeze it and market it that we haven’t done much of in the past. There are new opportunities now that we never had before in seafood, so this facility gives us an opportunity to capture some of that and help move the state forward.”
Hymel said plans are to start demonstrating simple projects that can be incorporated into a small fisherman’s repertoire to create value-added products.
“There’s a lot of questions about smoked fish — smoked catfish and garfish,” Hymel said. “That’s trending right now.”
“We had this equipment, but we could only take it on the road so many places,” said Julie Anderson Lively, executive director of the Louisiana Sea Grant College Program at LSU. “It’s amazing that this facility can now serve more with the equipment always available and ready.”
The lab is stocked with ready-to-use seafood processing equipment including stainless steel kitchen-grade appliances like a meat grinder, bandsaw, processing tables and sinks, ice makers and industry-specific items like a shrimp splitter, a fish scaler and modified atmosphere packaging machines.
Numerous refrigerators and freezers will be used to store the value-added seafood products that are derived from the fresh daily catches. Watts said while some of the equipment in the lab was from prior purchases, the remainder of the equipment was obtained through donations and grant-funded acquisitions.
LSU Interim Vice President of Agriculture and Dean of the College of Agriculture Luke Laborde was on hand for the ribbon cutting ceremony. He said the lab adds to the rich history of research and extension work conducted at the Iberia Research Station, but the real value of the facility will go far beyond the Louisiana seafood industry.
“This is going to bring new people, new clients into the industry, but more importantly, it’s going to bring new economic development to south Louisiana and the Acadiana area,” Laborde said.
The laboratory will add seafood to the list of research and extension offerings at the station. The facility is currently home to research plots of sugarcane, soybeans and forage grasses. Research into beef cattle breeding, feeding and grazing remains a substantial part of the work done there. The building that now houses the seafood lab was once a beef cattle grow-out barn — but the renovated, pristine facility shows no evidence of its prior purpose.
“The seafood industry is a significant contributor to our economy,” said Kurt Guidry, AgCenter Southwest Region director and agricultural economist. “We at the AgCenter and Sea Grant need to service that industry. This is going to give them the ability to do what they have already been doing and taking it to the next level with value-added products.”
Among those attending the ribbon-cutting event were LSU AgCenter and Louisiana Sea Grant administrators, private fishermen and local dignitaries, including Iberia Parish President Larry Richard, who said the new facility will bring great opportunities to Iberia Parish.
“This is a big deal for us,” Richard said. “When you’re talking about the small businesses coming in and learning how to package seafood, and things of that nature, you’re bringing more opportunities, more business to the parish, which means bringing in more tax dollars.”
LSU AgCenter and Louisiana Sea Grant seafood specialists Tom Hymel and Evelyn Watts (center) cut the ceremonial ribbon at the new Seafood Processing Demonstration Laboratory located at the AgCenter’s Iberia Research Station in Jeanerette. The pair was flanked by local dignitaries and administrators of the LSU AgCenter and the Louisiana Sea Grant at the July 19 event. Photo by Derek Albert/LSU AgCenter
LSU AgCenter and Louisiana Sea Grant seafood specialists Tom Hymel and Evelyn Watts describe how the organizations’ cooperative endeavors resulted in creation of the new Seafood Processing Demonstration Lab located at the AgCenter’s Iberia Research Station. At the July 19 ribbon cutting, Watts said the facility will be used to teach local seafood processors new techniques to market their catches. Photo by Derek Albert/LSU AgCenter