Louisiana seafood industry ‘giant’ Mike Voisin dies

By

Sean Murphy, SeafoodSource online editor

Published on
February 3, 2013

Friends, family and leaders in the Louisiana seafood industry are mourning the loss of their greatest spokesman and supporter this week, as Mike Voisin passed away over the weekend due to complications arising from a heart attack.

The Louisiana Seafood Board issued a statement on Saturday that Voisin, 59, died Saturday morning at Terrebonne General Hospital in his hometown of Houma, La.

“Mike died peacefully to the songs sung by family and friends,” said longtime close-friend Chris Nelson, VP of  Bon Secour Fisheries in Alabama. “It was both a privilege and honor to be so close to Mike during his final hours.”

A Los Angeles native, Voisin had lived in Louisiana for more than 38 years, and since 1971 he had owned Motivatit Seafoods, the company his father, Ernie, founded.

But simply running a seafood company wasn’t enough for Voisin, and he soon became a signature voice for the Louisiana seafood industry, a voice that carried clear to Washington. In 1984, Voisin helped found the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board, and, together with Nelson and Al Sunseri, of P & J Oyster Co. in New Orleans, founded “Walk the Hill,” an annual event where advocates such as Voisin went to Washington to lobby congress on behalf of the industry.

“Our friendship went beyond being in the seafood industry,” Sunseri said. “Mike, Chris and I have been inseparable for as long as I can remember, so much so that we earned the nickname ‘The Three Amigos.’ It is going to be hard not having Mike around to bounce ideas off of. We will sorely miss our amigo.”

The walk has become an annual pilgrimage that has been going on for the past 15 years. Voisin was preparing for this year’s event when he fell ill.

“It was a tragedy that Mike fell ill the day before he was scheduled to go to Washington,” said Nelson. “Everywhere we went on the hill, congressmen and senators asked how Mike was doing.”

Nelson said congressional offices were decorated with yellow ribbons in Voisin’s honor. The ribbons represented Gold Band Oysters, the product Voisin’s family created in the 1980s through high-pressure processing that eliminated the Vibrio vulnificus bacteria, which at the time had been a problem in the raw shellfish industry.

Voisin was affiliated with a long list of seafood-related organizations, including the Louisiana Oyster Dealers and Growers Association, Gulf and South Atlantic Fisheries Foundation, Southeastern Fisheries Association, Louisiana Seafood Processors Council, Gulf Oyster Industry Council and the Louisiana Oyster Task Force.

“I loved the way he conducted meetings, without losing his temper, no matter how many Type A personalities, such as mine, were in the room arguing over fish issues,” said Bob Jones, executive director of Southeastern Fisheries Association, in a Facebook post.  “I loved the way that big, strong, articulate 'Cajun' treated others in such a gentle, understanding and loving manner. I think most of all, in my own selfish way, how I cherished the way he made me feel when I was in his presence.”

Voisin was also a past chairman of the National Fisheries Institute. NFI President John Connelly said Voisin was “truly a giant” in a statement following Voisin’s passing.

“He was unwavering in his advocacy for seafood and for the men and women who work tirelessly to bring it to American tables,” Connelly said. “Inside the beltway there is a little-known saying that it is not who you know in Washington but how you are known that matters. He was known as a man of character, whose honesty and drive in advocacy for others was unmatched.”

Congressman Steve Scalise, speaking to WWLTV, called Voisin “a dear friend” and “a tireless champion for Louisiana seafood.” Other leaders in the industry echoed those sentiments, including Robert Barham, secretary of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

“Our whole department is so terribly saddened at the passing of Mike,” Barham said. “On a daily basis, I relied on his extensive knowledge of the coastal environment and seafood industry. No one was more versed on seafood management. It will be virtually impossible to find someone that has the ability, the knowledge and the will to ensure Louisiana remains a leader in the seafood industry.”

“In this world of mediocrity in which we all must live, there are few men that stand out above the rest. Then there was Mike,” said former Louisiana Seafood Board Chairman Harlon Pearce. “His caring for his fellow man, his undying love for his family as well as the industry he held so dear, made this world a better place.  I know I am a better man because of him.”

Ewell Smith, executive director of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board, said he considered Voisin his mentor.

“Our seafood community has lost an incredible leader,” Smith said. “Our seafood community is where it is today because of Mike. It will continue to move forward because of all of his amazing efforts.  We will miss him dearly and pray for his wonderful family.”

A wake for Mike Voisin will be held Wednesday, 6 February at Chauvin Funeral Home, 5899 Louisiana Highway 311 in Houma, La. 70360, (985) 873-7787.  The time is still to be determined, but usual visitation is 5-6 p.m. for family and 6–9 or 10 p.m. for the general public.

The funeral will be held  on Thursday, February 7 at Living Word Church, 1916 Louisiana Highway 311 in Schriever, La.  The service is scheduled for 11 a.m.  Visitation at the church will  start at approximately 9 a.m. until time of service.

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