A pioneer’s passion endures
I only met Ernie Voisin once. It was April 2008 when the National Fisheries Institute’s Future Leaders program brought us to Louisiana. We took the two-hour bus ride from New Orleans south to the small town of Houma, home of Motivatit Seafoods, which Ernie founded in 1971 with his family. The patriarch was getting on in years, but he still came to the office every day, seeking to fix whatever he could — problem solving was always his specialty.
While we were there, Voisin told us about how he left Louisiana as a young man for sunny Southern California with hopes of being the next John Wayne; about his long career in aerospace engineering, the patents he owned and how a part he invented was used on the first lunar excursion module in 1969; about returning home to the Bayou after 25 years away to start a seafood company with his family; about how some of his unique inventions only seemed to work for him.
The seafood industry we know today bears the fruit of the labor of folks like Voisin, who sadly passed away a week ago today at the age of 81. Thankfully, the Voisins are an incredibly tight-knit group, and the business is in quite capable hands and should be for some time. I spoke to Ernie’s son Mike Wednesday about his father and the indelible mark he left on seafood processing. Mike, president of Motivatit Seafoods, says his father had always prepared them well for the future.
“My dad, being an inventor, was constantly working on something to make us better,” said Mike Voisin. “Always thinking, always with his mind on the future. The older he got the more he thought about the future. He wanted to build something that would last. He could draw a painting in your mind and help you see the future as he saw it. So we followed his course.”
Perhaps Ernie Voisin’s greatest legacy, besides his warm and welcoming family, is the use of hydrostatic pressure processing (HPP) for Gulf oysters. After reading that the technology was successful with deli meats, he set about finding a way for HPP to work on oysters. In the 1980s the Gulf oyster industry was confounded by the Vibrio vulnificus bacteria, which had created a major problem with the product’s marketability and consumers’ desire for raw shellfish. The solution had become his passion.
At a research facility in Chicago, Voisin and the researchers eventually discovered that not only did the right pressure kill the bacteria, but also broke the oyster’s natural seal, essentially shucking it. In 1989, a product that would eventually be known as Gold Band Oysters was born, a milestone that marks the most exciting time in the company’s history.
Of course, it wasn’t at all simple or easy. Mike told me that Ernie must have tried “about 10,000 things” to solve the Vibrio puzzle before he finally put the pieces together. Some of his ideas were laughed at, but in the end it was Motivatit who was laughing all the way to the bank.
Even the company’s name, Motivatit, is a product of Ernie Voisin’s extraordinary mind. He always wanted to “motivate it” and push the company forward, and wouldn’t hear any talk of misspellings. “That’s how I want it, and people will remember it,” he told his son.
Ernie’s only regret in life, according to Mike, is that he never got to serve his country during World War II — by the time he was old enough to enlist the conflict had ended. But what he created with his life will definitely be remembered. Gold Band Oysters are served in restaurants nationwide and seafood companies around the world now use HPP processing. Not bad for a boy from the Bayou.
“He once told me, ‘It doesn’t really matter about the money. At a point, we’re going to be known for doing something that nobody else in the business can do. It’ll be worth it,’” said Mike. “He loved the challenge of it all. He was a good man. He worked hard. He worked every day, knowing there was something that he’d have to figure out.”