Education, Southern style
Last week, while most of my colleagues were covering Seafood Expo Global in Brussels, I had the privilege of attending the first of four sessions of the 2014 Future Leaders program, presented by the National Fisheries Institute.
Future Leaders has been a growing success since it was launched in 1998. Last year’s attendee count of 38 was a pleasant surprise that set a record; this year’s class has 43. The program has offered new players in the seafood industry and even the occasional seasoned veteran a chance at professional development via a hands-on look at the inner workings of the seafood industry.
I spent 6 to 8 May in the Southeastern United States, in Jacksonville, Fla., and on the islands off the southern coast of Georgia. Much of the time we were on Jekyll and St. Simons Islands. With a history dating back to the American Civil War (a long enough time for us Yankees), the islands today are popular resort spots full of plenty of Southern culture and food.
Among the highlights of the trip:
- Visiting the King & Prince Seafood plant and getting the chance to make my own sushi using the company’s Sushi Bob seafood rolling kit. The product recently won an innovation award in 2012, and is marketed as an easy way for foodservice chefs to make sushi rolls in front of guests. While I can’t say I could have easily done it without a little supervision, I’m sure an experienced chef would have a lot less trouble. We also got to take a tour of the company’s factory, watching various products prepared, cooked and packaged.
- A trip on a shrimp boat on a local river to see what trawl nets can harvest. It was a great chance to see massive horseshoe crabs — some with shells the size of half a basketball — and plenty of feisty blue crabs. We got some fun lessons on shrimp reproduction, how sting rays react to unwelcome visitors and why flounders have eyes on only one side of their heads.
- Preferred Freezer gave us a tour of a storage facility as cold as midwinter Maine (reminded me of taking the trash out in January without a jacket on) to show us an innovative sorting system that uses a picking crane system that retrieves packages while an operator sits in heated comfort in a control cabin.
Those are just a few things we got to do on the trip. We learned a lot, and of course, there was ample opportunity for networking. The attendees came from everywhere in the United States, from Dutch Harbor, Alaska, to Chicago to Houston to Seattle to Massachusetts to Miami. We all had a good time together. I’ve made quite a few friends already, and this was only the first of four trips. I’m already looking forward to the second session, which will take place in Portland, Ore. Later this year, we’re going to Ketchikan, Alaska, and Washington, D.C. So far, the program is living up to its reputation as being a great place to get a good education on the industry.