Seafood Cook-Off still on, despite shuffle
Despite some behind-the-scenes wrangling for ownership of the event, The Great American Seafood Cook-off is still on for 1-3 August, with the Louisiana Seafood Promotion & Marketing Board (LSPMB) remaining the popular event's sponsor.
Every year, NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) awards funding to an organization to put on the event. For the past 10 years, the funds have been awarded to the LSPMB. However, after the LSPMB switched from Louisiana’s Department of Wildlife and Fisheries to the state’s Department of Tourism last year, the funds were not awarded to the LSPMB.
Instead, NOAA awarded funds to the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission in late March. The GSMFC, in turn, said it would partner with the Gulf Seafood Institute, the Louisiana Restaurant Association, the Gulf and South Atlantic Fisheries Foundation, and the GSAFF’s marketing arm, the Gulf Seafood Marketing Coalition, to hold the event.
However, soon after the funds were awarded, Louisiana Lieutenant Governor Jay Dardenne expressed his concerns about the new ownership of the event in a letter to Paul Doremus, deputy assistant administrator for operations at NOAA.
“When we visited, I expressed to you my strong desire that the Board be awarded this grant and that it not be given to a new group that recently has been created and has no official affiliation with the state of Louisiana,” Dardenne wrote.
“Unfortunately, although we received no formal notice whatsoever that this matter would be taken up at the meeting, the Commission voted to award the grant to the Gulf Seafood Marketing Coalition ... I am disgusted at the manner in which this is being handled.”
As a result of the letter, the GSMC board decided to revisit the issue. On 17 April, the Gulf Seafood Marketing Coalition and the LSPMB were asked to submit proposals to sponsor the event in time for the GSMC’s meeting on 22 April. According to the GSMC, the LSPMB was the only organization that submitted a proposal, so the funds were awarded to the LSPMB.
“The Ad Hoc committee initially recommended that we apply for the grant and that we work with the Gulf and South Atlantic Fisheries Foundation Gulf Seafood Marketing Coalition to sponsor the event so as to foster a regional approach,” Ralph Hode, fisheries disaster recovery program coordinator for the GSMFC, told SeafoodSource. “However, formal proposals were never received nor requested. Lt Governor Dardenne reminded the Commission via letter that the State of Louisiana was never given the opportunity to submit a proposal on the sponsorship.”
“Since we moved from Wildlife and Fisheries to the Department of Tourism, I think they weren’t clear on our interest and ability to carry out the program,” Karen Profita, executive director of the LSPMB, told SeafoodSource. “Once we were able to show that we were able to conduct the event and that we get a lot of backup and support from the Department of Tourism [the LSPMB was awarded the funding].”
The LSPMB wants to improve the Great American Seafood Cook-off, “designing some things into it that will showcase seafood from across all five of our Gulf states,” Profita said. The board has added a new event on 1 August, a program that will allow chefs to “see up close and personal all the seafood that comes out of the Gulf and explore all the ways to work with it,” according to Profita.