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NetWorking: Russ Mentzer

Chairman, Seafood Industry Research Fund, McLean, Va.

By James Wright
April 01, 2013

Retirement means different things to different people. For Russ Mentzer, 65, it’s a chance to get deeply involved with one of his favorite late-career side projects: the Seafood Industry Research Fund (SIRF), formerly known as the Fisheries Scholarship Fund (FSF). For Mentzer, who in 2009 retired as CEO of King & Prince Seafood in St. Simons Island, Ga., retirement has other benefits: “Cheaper coffee at McDonald’s,” he says with a laugh. 

SIRF is the new brand for a research fund that many industry veterans wouldn’t believe is 50 years old. If you’ve ever been to the International Boston Seafood Show, you might have heard about the annual fundraising hockey game at Harvard University’s Bright Hockey Center over in Cambridge. But you might not be aware that this entity has delivered about $3 million over its history to universities across the nation to fund important research that improves the safety and quality of seafood. Mentzer says there’s a lot more that SIRF can do. 

JW: You really haven’t retired have you? 

RM: It’s amazing how much people need you when they pay you absolutely nothing! I’m being glib, but it’s a great way to pay it back. I met a lot of great friends, nice people. It’s a good way to back away from the business but still be involved. That’s my motivation for being a part of SIRF. 

Why change the name from Fisheries Scholarship Fund?  

We wanted to contemporize this organization. It’s been around for 50 years, well managed, well run. But it needed to change to some degree. We took a survey, and sent it to all National Fisheries Institute (NFI) members, asking them what they thought FSF did. They thought we raised money to pay for college for employees of seafood companies. We never did that. We needed to create a brand that stood for what our mission was. And all of our directors love to know they serve on the SIRF board. They get a kick out of that! 

Why do you want to stay involved? 

Now more than ever the organization focuses on the critical challenges the industry faces: nutrition, food safety and allergens. We have funded two-dozen projects on allergens at Tulane University alone; other research has looked into viruses that affect growth of shrimp and other fish in an aquaculture environment. The research leads to improved profitability. 

Tell me about the new Jack Kilgore Living Fund.  

Well, first of all, Jack (president of consumer products division at Rich Foods) has been in this industry for more than 30 years — all with Rich. Jack is a very committed, involved person in the community, no matter how you want to define community. He’s engaged. 

He’s done wonderful things within NFI. As chairman his board was responsible for recruiting [current president] John Connelly, a tremendous benefit to our organization, who brought new vision and new thoughts to what a national trade association should be and should do. He deserves credit for leading that charge.

[The living fund] is to honor Jack for his many years of leadership in this industry and his unselfishness. I know Jack in many different roles: as a friend, a neighbor — he lives only blocks away from me here on St. Simons Island — as a colleague and as a competitor. He’s a class act in all those roles. 

What are your goals for SIRF?  

To see the organization grow as well as its capabilities for funding research to improve the seafood industry and the quality and safety of products that allow for a free market within the global seafood industry. I’d like to see a bilateral trade research project so that we can know and understand that and so that others can appreciate the size and dimensions of the contributions of this industry and all it does for the United States.

 

April 2013 - SeaFood Business  

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