Louisiana’s wild-caught seafood is considered among the finest in the world. A sustainable and renewable resource, Louisiana shrimp, crab, oysters and fish have made the state’s seafood industry the nation’s second largest.
Despite everything going for it, the opportunity to sell more seafood directly from fishers into the local and regional markets had not been fully realized. Recent trends of farm-to-market distribution and buying local were expanding to seafood harvesters. New opportunities were developing to connect consumers directly with fishers and suppliers.
An Industry’s Mounting Challenges
Louisiana’s fishers are a loosely-knit group of individual entrepreneurs. Lacking the technological and marketing presence to compete in the digital age, the group began losing market share to lesser competitors.
In addition, cash flow slowed drastically every November through March, when fishing and direct sales at the ports were less feasible, making the industry less financially stable. Individual products created for the retail market lacked sophisticated marketing. Superb individual brands known locally did not have wider awareness and strong brand identities.
As a result, lesser-quality imports ruled the day in Louisiana supermarkets’ fresh and frozen food aisles. Consumers were settling for lower-quality alternatives that were easier to lay their hands on.
Integrated Marketing Solutions Facilitate Greater Reach
With funding from federal grants in partnership with industry participants, a team of specialists from the LSU AgCenter and Louisiana Sea Grant developed an economic development strategy to address the marketing challenges. The strategy involved introduction of interactive marketing tools for technology-friendly consumers and fishers, including an updated website, social media, branding, value-added products and e-commerce to help fishers better market their products along the entire Louisiana coastline and across the state.
LouisianaDirectSeafood.com Adds Next-Generation Technology and Social Media
To bring the seafood directly to market, the first move was to update the LouisianaDirectSeafood.com website, which had been launched by the Port of Delcambre in 2010. Funded by the port with the help of additional grants, the early version of the site was state-of-the-art for its time. But in November 2017, version 2.0 went live with a redesign and new features:
Historically, highly perishable fresh seafood was primarily sold word-of-mouth, in limited quantities, and with short bursts of dockside availability. In today’s world, word-of-mouth is maximized with web-based social media. The newly designed website allows for fishers to announce their catches directly to buyers. As soon as they dock, fishers place messages on the website’s Fresh Catch message board via their smartphones or tablets. The messages, which appear on the website’s homepage, typically include the type of product available, size, location and contact information. The messages are also automatically sent to the Facebook pages of the four program areas on the coast: Cameron Direct Seafood, Delcambre Direct Seafood, Lafourche-Terrebonne Direct Seafood and Southshore Direct Seafood.
To overcome seasonal challenges and to meet consumer demand, the team facilitated the introduction of value-added packaged products and updated branding. Over the past several years, the team had helped fishers and processors across the coast introduce frozen seafood packs of fish, shrimp, crabmeat and more. Products including Vermilion Bay Sweet branded packs and Louisiana Limited Wild Plate Frozen brands will be available year-round and provide revenue during winter months. The team also assisted in introducing niche products such as gumbo-style shrimp to reach a larger customer base.
A consistent, quality brand message was another important aspect. Many of the products carry the Certified Authentic Louisiana Wild Seafood label, guaranteeing the seafood was caught in the Gulf of Mexico or Louisiana coastal waters by licensed Louisiana fishers, landed at a Louisiana dock, and processed and packaged by a Louisiana-based company.
In 2018, the Port of Delcambre will roll out an e-commerce shipping website to facilitate direct shipping of frozen product lines. It is expected to be up by the start of shrimp season in the spring.
Fishers Get on Board
It was critical to help Louisiana’s fishing community adapt to a new set of skills, including business management, marketing, technology, packaging and processing. In this digital age, fishers understand the value of a web presence and updated business tools.
A prime example are Milton and Christine Naquin, who most days can be found shrimping on their home-built boat, the Jessica Gail, or selling shrimp directly from their Youngsville, Louisiana, home.
“After many years of shrimping, we’ve learned that staying competitive means adapting to change,” Milton said. “Delcambre Direct has helped us and many others adapt to new technology, and strengthen our customer base.”
“With the new website, we post our fresh catch as we’re coming into port, take orders, and start selling the next day,” Christine said.
So far, there are more than 150 fishers associated with program. When fishers see themselves as business people in addition to being fishers, their world changes. They see their business beyond the way it’s always been done and look at new possibilities including wholesale, direct marketing at farmers’ markets, and recurring restaurant sales.
Louisiana Direct Seafood’s new program showcases how the LSU AgCenter and Louisiana Sea Grant can interact with industry to benefit everyone in the seafood world.
People can find the freshest catch in their area by signing up for newsletters and liking social media pages. Go to http://louisianadirectseafood.com
In addition, people can explore Louisiana’s seafood industry with videos and additional resources at https://www.lafisheriesforward.org
Thomas Hymel is a marine extension agent with both the LSU AgCenter and Louisiana Sea Grant. He serves as director of the Louisiana Direct Seafood and the Louisiana Fisheries Forward programs.
Through the Louisiana Seafood Direct program, which was started in 2010 and refined in 2017, consumers can head to the dock as soon as fresh seafood comes in and buy directly from the fishers because they receive email notifications. Photo by Thomas Hymel
The Louisiana Seafood Direct program involves the use of social media, blogs and a website, LouisianaSeafoodDirect.com, to let consumers know when fresh fish is available at the dock so they can buy directly from the local fishers. Photo by Thomas Hymel
As soon as they dock, fishers place messages on the website’s Fresh Catch message board via their smartphones or tablets. The messages, which appear on the website’s homepage, typically include the type of product available, size, location and contact information. The messages are also automatically sent to the Facebook pages of the four program areas on the coast: Cameron Direct Seafood, Delcambre Direct Seafood, Lafourche-Terrebonne Direct Seafood and Southshore Direct Seafood. Photo by Thomas Hymel
The 2017 Denver T. and Ferne Loupe Extension Team Award was given to the fisheries and sea grant agents called the Louisiana Fisheries Forward and Louisiana Direct Seafood team during the AgCenter’s annual conference in December 2017. Left to right, the team includes: Evelyn Gutierrez Watts; Leslie Davis ; Vice President Bill Richardson, who presented the awards; Anne Dugas; Kevin Savoie; Julie Falgout; Mark Shirley; Julie Anderson Lively; Rusty Gaude’; Carol Franze; Thomas Hymel; and Dominique Seibert. Not pictured is Thu Bui. Photo by Olivia McClure