The LSU AgCenter research and extension model that has strengthened the state’s agriculture industry — its cotton, sugarcane, soybeans, rice, and more — is also applied to its commercial seafood industry through the Louisiana Fisheries Forward program.
Established to improve the economic strength and resource stewardship of Louisiana’s commercial fishing industry, Louisiana Fisheries Forward is a voluntary educational program for all industry members, with a focus on harvesters, docks and processors.
At its heart, Louisiana Fisheries Forward provides a mechanism to develop and deliver relevant information and improve the education, proficiency and stewardship of the commercial fisheries business. It strengthens a wide variety of best management practices by keeping all sectors informed of rapidly changing regulations, equipment and technology, handling techniques, safety issues, responsible harvesting, global trends and more.
The Louisiana Fisheries Forward program is a partnership among the LSU AgCenter, Louisiana Sea Grant, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and seafood industry stakeholders. It is funded with state and federal resources through Wildlife and Fisheries and administered by the AgCenter and Sea Grant through the Marine Extension Program. The subject matter expertise and outreach of university scientists, field biologists and fisheries resource managers are complemented by the hands-on work of community-embedded marine extension agents. The program is further supported by fisheries and food seafood specialists, a marine resource economist, and other specialists, who identify issues and offer up-to-date information and solutions.
Louisiana is the largest producer of seafood in the lower 48 states, and its world-class offerings have been the backbone of its coastal economy and culture for generations. Unfortunately, the resource has taken hits from hurricanes, coastal land loss, ever-increasing seafood imports, rising expenses and oil spills. Ninety percent of seafood consumed in the United States is imported, simply because the amount produced locally does not get close to matching demand.
A major goal of the Louisiana Fisheries Forward program is to unleash the potential of the Louisiana fisheries industry by improving harvesting and stewardship practices to strengthen this wild, renewable and natural resource and sustain it for the enjoyment and economic benefit of future generations. An industry development effort had already been successfully carried out in Alaska, the nation’s No. 1 seafood producer. Although Alaska’s industry is dominated by larger businesses, whereas Louisiana’s features mostly smaller, family-run groups, the baseline was set to prove that such a program could succeed here.
The seeds of the Louisiana Fisheries Forward program developed during a half century of coastal resource management and fisherman education provided by the Marine Extension Program in partnership with the seafood industry, following the Sea Grant program’s birth in 1968.
Then in 2012, in the devastating aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 and the BP oil spill in 2008, Sea Grant and the AgCenter hosted the first Seafood Academy. With an eye to addressing concerns, industry players and the Marine Extension Program came together to strengthen the flagging seafood industry. Workshops helped fishermen move forward and staffers discover unmet needs. The Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and other seafood industry stakeholders also recognized the value of a consistent program, and the idea for Louisiana Fisheries Forward was born.
Program efforts began with the shrimp industry and soon expanded to all sectors, including crab, oysters, marine fin fish, inland freshwater seafood (catfish, crawfish, etc.), recreational for hire (charter fishing), docks and processors.
The principal goal is to help these groups get ahead of the curve quickly by presenting new business trends, technologies, equipment, regulatory rules and policies that lead to financial success and resource sustainability.
Thomas Hymel is a marine extension agent with both the LSU AgCenter and Louisiana Sea Grant. He serves as director of the Louisiana Fisheries Forward and Louisiana Seafood Direct programs.
(This article was published in the fall 2018 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)