NFI’s new president dives into the seafood industry
Lisa Wallenda Picard was picked to be the next president of the National Fisheries Institute (NFI) last year, replacing longtime president John Connelly, who died in November 2022 after being diagnosed with cholangiocarcinoma, a rare bile duct cancer.
Wallenda Picard brings with her decades of experience advocating for industry, most recently serving as the senior vice president of the National Turkey Federation.
Wallenda Picard shared how the first few months of her tenure with NFI have gone, and what issues she anticipates NFI and the seafood industry will need to tackle in the coming year.
SeafoodSource: How did you get picked to serve as the next president of NFI?
Wallenda Picard: It was a really great phone call that started the whole process. I’ve been in [Washington] D.C., U.S.A. for almost 30 years, and in the association world for a long time, and so I was obviously aware of NFI. The advocacy world is a small one, and I knew that there are a bunch of great people here.
I got a call from a recruiter, and I was explaining that I’m not a fish expert – even though I love to eat it! And they assured me I didn’t need to be a fish expert, because there are some of the best fish experts in the world on staff – that’s not what they were hiring for. They needed somebody who could run an association – and I said, “We should talk because I can do that.”
SeafoodSource: What was your history in the association industry prior to joining NFI?
Wallenda Picard: I grew up in Florida, and then I came up to D.C. for a three-month internship with the White House – and I’m sure I’m going to go home any day. Now it’s been 30 years.
I worked in an association early on, which was around the year 2000, and kind of got into the animal agriculture role. I worked for Ringling Brothers for a time, that was more for live animals. Then I went over to the USDA [U.S. Department of Agriculture], and then from there I went over to the National Turkey Federation, and I was at that association for 11 years. That was a nice combination – to be able to use my live-side experience and bring the USDA experience into the industry side.
SeafoodSource: What are some of the similarities you’re seeing between your time with the National Turkey Federation and NFI?
Wallenda Picard: So regulators, I don’t want to say they’re all the same, but they do tend to work from a single pinpoint: Most of them really want to solve problems. We just have to show them what the solution is, and a lot time the solution comes down to realizing the problem doesn’t actually exist.
A lot of it is working with them to say, “Okay, we understand you’re concerned about ‘X,’ but that’s not really the problem – the problem is really that over here we’re not able to ‘X’ or the industry isn’t able to use this piece.” Going back to turkey, salmonella was always a big issue, and they want very simple solutions. But the science didn’t always exist to do what they wanted. So why are you going to write a regulation on something that can’t actually happen? Why don’t you talk to the people who know what’s going on? Essentially, we said we understand that your goal, with turkey, is to reduce foodborne illness. So then let’s figure out what can actually happen.
I see my role as being a translator of sorts, between the regulatory folks who know what they want to do, but they’re not sure how to do it, and the industry people who know how to do it, but aren’t always exactly sure what the regulatory people are asking for.
It’s important for us in the industry to remember the pressures that the government folks are under. They all have bosses in various shapes and forms – sometimes it’s Capitol Hill, sometimes it’s an NGO or the media – there’s all kinds of pressures that they’re experiencing. If we can come in with a solution, instead of just complaining, we can usually get a better result for us, and get a better result for them.
SeafoodSource: Speaking of regulatory pressure, are you getting a sense for what the seafood industry needs to be preparing for?
Wallenda Picard: There’s a couple of things that are coming at us from the regulatory front. SIMP [Seafood Import Monitoring Program] and traceability are issues, and the team here is pretty phenomenal, but traceability is three years out and we have to figure out ways for our members to understand what is now required of them. The challenge with seafood is that there’s so many different species, and so people are impacted in a different way.
We want to be sure we’re tailoring to what our members need. But then that also goes back to the other end, when working with a regulator. These folks are all different, and it sounds really great to sit in a room and say, “Hey, we’re going to know where every piece of fish comes from, and we’re going to know every fishing vessel, and every port,” but – what is the phrase from the movie? “They can’t handle the truth.” The truth is, that volume of traceability information isn’t always an effective tool. Data for data’s sake just gets you data. There needs to be a targeted strategy behind it. So, you know the captain’s name… great. Now what? What do they really want to accomplish? Then, how can we make sure that industry can actually do that, and how industry can do that and still remain feeding the world.
SeafoodSource: Have you attended industry trade shows over the course of your career? What do you think the value of trade shows is, and businesses coming together in such a way?
Wallenda Picard: I’ve absolutely attended industry trade shows with the poultry industry, and their version of GSMC [NFI’s Global Seafood Marketing Conference].
I don’t want to say I’m old school, and I realize we all just came through a pandemic, but to me, face-to-face is priceless. That kind of business, I don’t think that that ever goes away. Yes, we have benefits now that everyone has kind of figured out Zoom, and it does make it easier in a moment. But, nothing ever fully replaces that, whether it’s in Palm Springs, whether it’s in Boston, whether it’s in Barcelona. These are going to remain a major part of what NFI does. You just can’t replicate the conversations that you can have at these events.
SeafoodSource: What do you hope to come away with from attending Seafood Expo North America?
Wallenda Picard: I’m really hoping I will put a few more faces with companies. For our industry, Boston is vital. They get all the information for the new year beginning at GSMC – but Boston is where they execute. So, I want to do my version of executing on our issues there, too.
SeafoodSource: Where do you think the industry should place its focus in 2023?
Wallenda Picard: I want to make sure that we really drive home the message of the health profile that seafood has across the board.
I would also like to see if we can, big picture, make sure we’re addressing if people might be nervous about cooking seafood. I’ve started to see some really cool innovative products that seafood is doing in order to make it easier to produce in the home.
We had the big bump during COVID when everyone was home all the time. Now folks are getting back, and maybe looking more for the convenient products. Is there an area there that we can grow? That may be happening – that’s just knowledge areas I need to learn myself.
SeafoodSource: Do you have any thoughts on the seafood industry’s attempts to create a national marketing board? Do you have experience with those sorts of entities from your past work?
Wallenda Picard: Everybody always wants to do the big splash and obviously drive consumption of products, but that’s a really heavy lift, and I think sometimes it’s important for us to really think through where we can be impactful and effective. In the National Turkey Federation, we kind of switched back and forth trying to find exactly what was the right combination.
SeafoodSource: How have you felt so far working with the seafood industry? Is there anything you want those in the industry to know?
Wallenda Picard: I guess it’s important to know that I’m an absolute total geek and I am so excited. Alright, so this is how much of a geek I am: For our 25th wedding anniversary, my husband put together a trip and I told him I wanted to go on a crab boat. Literally there’s a picture in my office of my 25th wedding anniversary of me on my crab boat, and I got to throw the hook out, and I was so excited.
What our members do is so cool. I really take feeding the world very seriously, and I’m very proud to represent the people who do that.
Photo courtesy of Lisa Wallenda Picard/LinkedIn