By Christine Blank, SeafoodSource contributing editor
Published on 12 September, 2013
While he was campaigning for Gulf seafood in Washington, D.C. earlier this summer, Harlon Pearce, former chairman of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board and owner of New Orleans-based Harlon’s LA Fish, realized that the Gulf states needed more representation and support.
“It really struck me that we need a stronger advocacy organization. We want to include everyone who touches seafood, whether it is a restaurant, processor, chef, or the end consumer,” Pearce told SeafoodSource. “There is no one group that has an outreach to all these varied interests,” he added.
So, Pearce immediately got together with Gulf seafood distributors, restaurant associations, and others to form the Gulf Seafood Institute (GSI). The institute will represent fishermen, harvesters, distributors, processors and other seafood businesses, along with academia and environmental organizations in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida and Texas.
“A number of Gulf states do not have a strong presence advocating the management and use of the Gulf’s sustainable resources. 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,” said Jim Gossen, a GSI board member and chairman of Texas-base Sysco Louisiana Seafood, in a written statement.
To that end, GSI will be involved in political advocacy at the state and national level and will also focus on education and research. “We want to be affiliated with the National Fisheries Institute and all seafood groups. When we all agree on something, it will make a difference in Washington,” Pearce said.
The GSI will urge the five states to establish a “Gulf science center.”
“It’s very frustrating when you can’t get real-time data. With all the money coming in from the Restore Act and other acts, we can begin to get control of our own destiny in the Gulf,” Pearce said.
The GSI’s mission is to protect the Gulf’s unique culture and environment, while elevating the Gulf seafood brand with consumers, customers and policy leaders. Its board has identified five immediate issues of concern across the five states:
• Gulf Seafood Safety: Recent consumer research indicates there is a continued need for the federal government to communicate with consumers about the safety of Gulf seafood, GSI stated.
• H-2B visas: Recent Federal actions threaten the viability of the H-2B visa program, according to GSI.
• Stock assessments: “NOAA must place more emphasis on conducting more frequent and robust, peer-reviewed fisheries stock assessments in the Gulf of Mexico,” GIS stated.
• Disaster mitigation and recovery.
• Crop insurance: “Coverage for Gulf seafood commodities may stabilize the industry and protect family incomes from disasters both natural and man-made,” GSI stated.
The GSI has also established an online newsroom, GulfSeafoodNews.com, to get the word out about the industry.