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 sustainability of the seafood it produces.
According to Harlon Pearce, owner of New Orleans Harlon’s LA Fish and former Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board chairman, “there is no one group that has an outreach to all these varied interests.” His new vision is the Gulf Seafood Institute.“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 GSI has the experience to bring these voices together for the benefit of all.”
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.
“A number of Gulf States don’t have a strong presence advocating the management and use of Gulf’s sustainable resources,” said Jim Gossen, chairman of Texas-based Sysco, Louisiana Seafood 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.”
|Stan Harris, President/CEO, Louisiana Restaurant Association|
and Gulf Seafood Institute board member.
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.“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 GSI board member Stan Harris, President/CEO of the Louisiana Restaurant Association. “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 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.
"Massive new funding sources have become available for fisheries science and research as a result of the Deepwater Horizon spill. 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.
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.”