Conference highlights adding value to seafood products

Johnny Morgan  |  2/6/2019 2:30:34 PM

(02/05/19) BATON ROUGE, La. — Seafood processors and others attending the Beyond the Boat seafood conference on Jan. 30 discussed ways to increase the value of their catch.

LSU AgCenter and Louisiana Sea Grant fisheries agent Rusty Gaude told the attendees that this meeting represents the “next level.”

Past meetings have discussed what to do before a catch and what needs to be done after the catch is made.

“But once the catch is made, it’s then that you need to be thinking about how to get that product to the plate in as near the same condition as when you caught it,” he said.

That’s the reason the conference was titled Beyond the Boat, which is where value is added in order to produce as much income as possible from the product, he said.

One of the recurring themes of the meeting was ways to use packaging to increase value of a product.

AgCenter seafood specialist Evelyn Watts discussed how to properly freeze raw seafood and new ideas for packaging, including modified atmospheric vacuum packaging.

Watts said her job is to help producers to comply with regulations and to help them have a high-quality product.

Consumers expect the freshest seafood available, and frozen product is sometimes frowned upon.

“But if a fisherman can get the product frozen while on the boat or as soon as they dock, then it will have the same quality as the product that has been sitting on the shelf for two or three days,” she said.

AgCenter and Louisiana Sea Grant fisheries agent Thomas Hymel talked about the value-added packaged product.

“Our jobs are all about economic development and looking for ways to engage the industry,” he said. “Two of our current programs are Louisiana Fisheries Forward and Louisiana Direct Seafood.”

Those efforts aim to educate those in the fishing industry and get their products to farmers markets. The goal is to provide customers the freshest seafood possible, he said.

AgCenter and Louisiana Sea Grant fisheries agent Thu Bui discussed the importance of transportation and what producers can do to help the system work efficiently.

“When we are shipping products, we want to make sure that our product looks the same when it’s received as it did when it was shipped,” Bui said.

Carrie Castille, state director for U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development, spoke to the group about some of the grants and loans available to the seafood industry.

“We have a number of resources available to you as you try to market your product,” she said. “We do have value-added producer grants. We also have the Renewable Energy for America … grants and loans that deal with refrigeration, storage and lighting.”

Castille said funds are available to help with workers in the H2A and H2B programs.

John Ewart, retired Delaware aquaculture and fisheries specialist, talked about the future and moving the fisheries industry forward.

“We are currently at the maximum sustainable yield for fisheries production nationally and globally,” he said. “With the increase in population growth, there is also the need for increased amounts of protein-based foods and aquaculture is filling that void.”

Right now, there is about a 50-50 split between production from wild fisheries and aquaculture, with aquaculture likely to take the lead in the near future, he said.

“We are currently importing over 90 percent of our seafood from foreign sources,” he said. “China, Norway and Chile are the major importers into the United States.”

Louisiana is the leading seafood producer in the lower 48 states. Only Alaska produces more, Ewart said.

“We are becoming more and more dependent on imported seafood,” he said. “During the past 20 years, our production hasn’t risen much, while our imports have.”

The highest-quality seafood in the U.S. is being exported to the Asia-Pacific region because people there are willing to pay three times the price that Americans are willing to pay, Ewart said.

Rogers Leonard, AgCenter associate vice president, explained the connection between agriculture and seafood.

“The School of Renewable and Natural Resources falls under the College of Agriculture,” he said. “In addition to that, Louisiana Sea Grant shares time with the LSU AgCenter. This combination is in charge of this initiative here today.”

Following the program, attendees watched demonstrations of some of the equipment vendors brought to the meeting.

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LSU AgCenter and Louisiana Sea Grant fisheries agent Thomas Hymel shows some of the value-added packaged seafood products during the Beyond the Boat seafood conference held at LSU on Jan. 30. Photo by Johnny Morgan/LSU AgCenter

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Karl Turner, president of A La Carte Specialty Foods, discusses successful marketing strategies as part of the panel discussion during the Beyond the Boat seafood conference held at LSU on Jan. 30. Photo by Johnny Morgan/LSU AgCenter

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LSU AgCenter and Louisiana Sea Grant fisheries agent Rusty Gaude demonstrates a catfish skinner during the Beyond the Boat seafood conference held at LSU on Jan. 30. Photo by Johnny Morgan/LSU AgCenter

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LSU AgCenter seafood specialist Evelyn Watts explains the benefits of vacuum packing seafood for a fresher product during the Beyond the Boat seafood conference held at LSU on Jan. 30. Photo by Johnny Morgan/LSU AgCenter

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