The Gulf Seafood Institute

Harvesters and processors; distributors and retailers; chefs and restaurants; academia and environmental governmental and non-governmental organizations all have a unique stake in the Gulf’s environment and the sustainable seafood it produces.

Harlon Pearce, the former chairman of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board, help form the Gulf Seafood Institute, a board of seafood experts representing every Gulf state, as well as every aspect of the industry – both commercial and recreational.

Peace explained there is “no one group that has an outreach to all these varied interests.” His new vision to establish a close working relationships with all Gulf organizations is the Gulf Seafood Institute (GSI).

Uniting the seafood communities of five Gulf States, the institute’s mission will be to protect the Gulf’s unique culture and environment while elevating the Gulf Seafood brand with consumers, customers and policy leaders through advocacy, education and science.

GSI-Logo

“A number of Gulf States do not have a strong presence advocating the management and use of Gulf’s sustainable resources,” said Jim Gossen, chairman of Texas based Sysco Louisiana Seafoods and a GSI board member. “It is important, now more than ever, for stakeholders from every state having an interest in the Gulf to come together as one unified voice to ensure the continuance of the unique Gulf Coast and its fishing culture.”

Gossen sees importance in revitalizing the Gulf and its seafood industries in the small towns that dot the coast from Padre Island to Key West.

With an influential board of directors from across the Gulf, the organization is positioning itself to be a leading advocate on behalf of the Gulf seafood community with federal and state policymakers on key issues impacting our industry.

Institute to Address Key Issues

“There is currently a large void in advocacy from existing Gulf seafood interests; this gap has paved the way for the creation of the Gulf Seafood Institute,” said Stan Harris, CEO of the Louisiana Restaurant Association and a GSi board member. “The institute will leverage the strength of grassroots stakeholders with our relationships with Congress and the Administration to ensure focus on the key issues.”The board of has identified five immediate issues of concern across the region:

  • Gulf seafood safety: Recent consumer research indicates there is a continued need for the federal government to communicate with consumers about the safety and wholesomeness of Gulf seafood products.
  • H-2B visas: Recent federal actions threaten the viability of the H-2B visa program. We must preserve the H-2B visa program for seafood businesses that utilize temporary foreign workers to fill the most labor-intensive positions in the industry.
  • Stock assessments: NOAA must place more emphasis on conducting more frequent and robust, peer-reviewed fisheries stock assessments in the Gulf of Mexico.
  • Disaster mitigation and recovery: Maintain close relationships with key decision makers at the federal level so that a comprehensive relief response is immediate following any future fisheries disasters.
  • Crop insurance: Coverage for Gulf seafood commodities may stabilize the industry and protect family incomes from disasters both natural and manmade.

According to board member Chris Nelson of Alabama’s Bon Secour Fisheries, “A key challenge facing the commercial seafood community in the Gulf is a decline in attracting a new, younger workforce.

“To make commercial fishing an attractive industry to a younger generation and to take our industry into the future, the Gulf Seafood Institute will spearhead programs designed to educate and professionalize our industry,” he went on to explain.

To immediately address the situation, four areas of focus have been chosen:

  • Curriculum to capitalize on recent technological advances designed to make data collection faster and easier.
  • Programs to educate industry on proper use of tools designed to increase sustainability of our fishery resources.
  • A concentrated focus on diverse populations that have historically contributed to the industry but are at risk today.
  • Creation of a healthcare exchange to provide a younger workforce with healthcare coverage.

Increasing fisheries science and research throughout the Gulf region that will contribute to the preservation of the resource and the longevity of the industry will be a priority of the organization.

 A Wealth of Experience

The leadership of the Gulf Seafood Institute has the experience to bring the voices of the Gulf together, according to Elizabeth Fetherston, deputy director of the Ocean Conservancy’s Fish Conservation Program. Photo: Ocean Conservency

“Massive new funding sources have become available for fisheries science and research as a result of the Deepwater Horizon incident. GSI will work alongside Congress and stakeholders to ensure these funds are spent in a way that maximizes research for our region,” explained GSI board member Johnny Greene, a Gulf Shores, AL sport-fishing captain.

Part of the group’s strategy may include establishment of a Gulf Coast Fisheries Science Center to serve as a clearinghouse for these programs.

“Right now Japan is facing a seafood crisis equal to what the Gulf seafood industry experienced during the Deepwater Horizon incident,” said GSI board member Greg Beuerman, a principle at Beuerman Miller Fitzgerald Public Relations of New Orleans. “As the Fukushima nuclear plant leaks radioactive water into the coast, questions are arising at home, as well as around the world, on the safety of their seafood. We have the experience to offer concrete crisis communications advice to address issues when they arise in the seafood industry, we will certainly be on top of the of the situation.”

Recognizing the importance of an integrated group dedicated to science and education in the Gulf, the Ocean Conservancy has pledged $20,000 seed money for the new organization.

“With so much on the line after the Deepwater Horizon disaster, stakeholders in the Gulf of Mexico should be working together to build bridges and solve problems,” said Elizabeth Fetherston, deputy director of the Ocean Conservancy’s Fish Conservation Program. “There are many voices currently speaking for various aspects of the Gulf, the leadership of the Gulf Seafood Institute has the experience to bring these voices together for the benefit of all.”

A Voice for the Gulf

The institute has already established an online newsroom – GulfSeafoodNews.com.  According to its executive editor, Ed Lallo of Austin, TX based Newsroom Ink, “Gulf Seafood News will work with companies, organizations and legislators – local, state and national – to tell their unique Gulf story.”

“The newsroom will address the important issues affecting the Gulf’s seafood communities, its brand and the environment,” said Lallo. “It is important to have a strong, clear voice for these varied Gulf communities – especially in time of crisis.”

“The important first step of this organization is to build ‘trust’,” said David Krebs, president and owner of Ariel Seafoods in Destin, FL and GSI board member. “We need to bring every Gulf organization to the table so they have a voice. It is not about ‘differences’, but instead seeking common ground to benefit all of the Gulf’s environmental and fishing communities without conflict. It is important to band together to leave a legacy of change and stewardship, or else we all shall perish individually.”

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