The Louisiana Seafood Direct Program is helping the state’s seafood industry compete with the worldwide aquaculture industry.
Thomas Hymel, LSU AgCenter and Louisiana Sea Grant agent, said the state seafood industry has gone through a number of challenges, including hurricanes Rita and Ike and the BP oil spill. But it remains the largest seafood-producing state in the Lower 48.
Those who have survived the challenges are benefitting from the program, which connects fishers with consumers.
On the Louisiana Seafood Direct website, consumers can learn about fresh seafood products available from boats and processors. In Delcambre more than 70 participants are offering their products directly to consumers, Hymel said.
”It has opened a lot of doors to a lot of new commerce. It’s been a huge opportunity created for commercial fishermen, packers and processors,” he said.
A new boat launch at Delcambre provides easier access to the marsh and Vermilion Bay. A waterfront pavilion for a seafood and farmers market increases sales opportunities, he said. “We are ending up with more vessels coming into Delcambre to sell their catch.”
That program has been expanded to the New Orleans and Houma-Thibodaux areas, and it will be developed in Cameron also, Hymel said.
A seafood processing plant under construction in Cameron is expected to be completed by June, said Kevin Savoie, LSU AgCenter and Louisiana Sea Grant fisheries agent. The facility will provide an outlet for Cameron Parish shrimpers who have had to ship their product to processors in Delcambre or Port Arthur, Texas. That shipping expense meant less money for shrimpers.
The plant, being built where an ice house was on the Old River Loop, will be owned by the Cameron Parish Police Jury and operated by a private company, Cameron Fisheries. Funding for the $4 million project came from a Community Development Block Grant, Savoie said.
Savoie said the state-of-the art plant will be able to incorporate services such as peeling and retail packaging, similar to what is being done in the Vermilion Bay Sweet project. “It helps get a premium price for a premium product,” Hymel said.
The direct seafood marketing program for New Orleans is in the fledgling stages, said Albert ”Rusty” Gaude, LSU AgCenter and Louisiana Sea Grant fisheries agent, with about 20 boats registered.
In recent years, shrimpers in the Gulf of Mexico have benefitted from higher prices as a result of a disease problem that plagued Southeast Asian shrimp farming operations, Gaude said. “There’s some word right now that the farming operations are coming out of that disease cycle.”
He said the overall shrimp catch in U.S. waters increased in 2014, but the amount of imported shrimp also rose. “Not only are we catching more, and not only is there more shrimp coming into the country, but we are eating a lot more shrimp.”
The oyster industry is not faring as well, however. Although the BP oil spill has been blamed, Gaude said, not much direct evidence exists to prove a connection to the downturn that existed before the disaster.
The low amount of spats, or developing oysters, in the wild has been on the decline. “It’s been like that for several years,” he said.
An educational outreach program, Louisiana Fisheries Forward, to help fishers and processors improve efficiency and safety is an ongoing effort with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. An oyster industry workshop was held in December in Houma. The third annual Seafood Summit will be held March 11 at the Houma Civic Center with more than 500 people from the seafood industry expected.
Bruce Schultz is an assistant specialist with LSU AgCenter Communications.
(This article was published in the winter 2015 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)