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Point of View: Louisiana implores industry for help

By Ewell Smith
September 01, 2010

The Louisiana seafood industry is all too familiar with the terms "disaster" and "crisis communications." After consecutive active hurricane seasons beginning with Hurricane Katrina in 2005 followed by Hurricanes Rita, Gustav and Ike, when it came to overcoming obstacles we thought we had seen it all. A hurricane is an accelerated event. You monitor the track, evacuate your family and return afterward to assess the destruction. It's here and gone within days and you immediately know the damage that has been caused. The challenges of the Gulf oil spill, though, are uniquely different.

As I write this, it has been close to four months since the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded on April 20, took the lives of 11 platform workers and sank into the Gulf of Mexico. Each day has been wrought with uncertainty and unanswered questions. What is the future for our Louisiana seafood industry and the more than 27,000 people who depend on it for their livelihood? Will the responsible parties really "make it right" for our affected seafood communities?

Recently, there has been progress made in capping the leaking well in the Gulf. This is news that we have all been waiting to hear and it brings our industry a tremendous sense of relief, but at the same time our fears are not eased. The work for my organization and the thousands of fishermen and processors that we represent continues to get more and more difficult. Until this moment, we have essentially been in crisis mode, trying to keep up with the hundreds of interview requests we receive each week and taking every opportunity to get in front of a camera or a microphone to help get the message out that the Louisiana seafood industry is still alive.

Our biggest challenge right now is perception. Currently 70 percent of our waters are open to commercial fishing and Louisiana seafood and water is being tested at an unprecedented level by many federal agencies, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Food and Drug Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Environmental Quality. This is in addition to the testing being done by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals. All of these agencies' tests have shown that Louisiana seafood is safe. We are working diligently to get the message out that our seafood is safe, but seafood consumers around the nation remain skeptical. With our small advertising budget, our message is a whisper compared to the 24-hour real-time video of oil gushing into the Gulf that was broadcasted into homes and offices around the nation for months.

We are not defeated, however, and continue to look for new and creative ways to reach out to the consumer. We have called on the public health agencies responsible for testing to help us create a unified message on their behalf that our seafood is safe and we are working with local and national chefs to be our ambassadors. Some of the nation's finest chefs have spoken out on our behalf to their fans, imploring for their help in saving our fishing communities.

As a SeaFood Business reader, we need you to help be a part of the solution. The faster the Louisiana and Gulf of Mexico seafood industries return, the stronger the entire U.S. seafood industry will be. Encourage, support and trust the agencies that are conducting seafood testing. No one is spared from disaster and while it might not be a hurricane or oil spill that threatens your seafood communities, the testing being done now can serve as a model for any natural or manmade incident that could potentially pose a threat to consumers. Join us today in helping rebuild markets for Louisiana and Gulf Coast seafood. Partner with purveyors on the Gulf Coast to create opportunities to use Louisiana and Gulf seafood. As the saying goes, "A rising tide raises all ships."


Ewell Smith is the executive director of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board, www.Louisianaseafood.com


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