Momentum building for a National Seafood Council resurrection
Just over one year ago, the Marine Fisheries Advisory Committee held a panel discussing the idea of reviving a dormant portion of the U.S. Fish and Seafood Promotion Act that would establish a National Seafood Council.
The act was put in place back in 1986, with the intention of promoting domestically harvested seafood in the U.S. It established the National Seafood Council in 1987, an entity that ran for five years before it dissolved. Hampered by a low budget, the council was, in some senses, doomed from the start.
At that meeting in 2019, Megan Davis, a research professor with Florida Atlantic University and a member of MAFAC, suggested that it might be a good time to look at restarting that project once more.
Now, members of the committee that have been working on the new council concept are taking part in a webinar, hosted by SeafoodSource, to discuss in detail what they’ve found so far.
A National Seafood Council wouldn’t be alone, or unique. Most other domestic food products – from meat to avocados – has some sort of marketing board which is supported by the industry and helps promote the domestic consumption of the food. Plus, if any food could benefit from more consumer education, it’s seafood, according to Davis.
“Seafood is one of the more complicated and least-understood food products on the market,” Davis said. “There are many considerations that the consumer needs to think about when purchasing seafood such as nutritional value, food safety, what to purchase, and what product form to purchase, where it came from, and how to prepare it. Some consumers receive misinformation, conflicting information, or no information at all on these considerations. The consumer needs to feel comfortable when making their choices whether it be dining out or buying seafood to take home to cook from the seafood market or grocery store.”
After that initial MAFAC meeting, a plan started to take shape, and the idea of resurrecting the National Seafood Council started to gain legs.
First, however, came determining what a council of that nature would even look like.
“In October, we had another panel, and we asked the USDA Agricultural marketing service to come, and also the presidents and past presidents from commodity boards,” Davis told SeafoodSource.
The purpose of that meeting, Davis said, was to gather more information on what makes those boards work.
“That was really helpful for us to go a little deeper for us to understand commodity boards," she said.
Soon after that meeting, MAFAC began surveying members of the industry from all corners of the U.S. to see whether the interest was there, and if so, what direction a potential promotional council could take. A task working group of 11 people was formed, and soon the group had interviewed more than 50 members of the industry from all over the country.
Another key aspect the task working group has been looking into is the language contained in the original law passed by Congress.
“We wanted to evaluate the Fish and Seafood Promotion Act, and see if it needed updating to more modern seafood industry needs,” Davis said. “The council, we also are making changes to the structure, to make sure that it meets the mission of today’s needs."
At the core, of course, would be the mission of increasing consumption and promoting domestic seafood consumption.
“A concept like the National Seafood Council could help with marketing, research, and education of all U.S. seafood,” Davis said. "It could provide a unified voice that could help other organizations amplify their messages to consumers about the importance and value of eating seafood, both wild and aquaculture, from sustainable U.S. sources. A National Seafood Council could help to improve consumer confidence in U.S. seafood, which in turn will increase U.S. seafood consumption in the U.S. and benefit the seafood community.”
The drive to establish such an entity only increased with the onset of COVID-19, Davis added.
“That amplified it even more so, especially for U.S. seafood,” she said. “We really feel that this [COVID-19] amplifies the message that we need this unified positive messaging voice.”
Photo courtesy of Jacob Blount/Shutterstock