Seafood program expanding

A seafood promotion and marketing project aimed at developing direct sales from fishermen to customers is being expanded along the Louisiana Gulf Coast.

The new Louisiana Direct Seafood program is moving into two southeast Louisiana areas. The SouthShore-New Orleans includes the area along the southern shore of Lake Pontchartrain, St. Bernard and south to Plaquemines Parish. The LaTer program area includes Lafourche and Terrebonne parishes. Expansion also is planned into the Cameron Parish coastal area.

The Louisiana Direct Seafood project started as Delcambre Direct Seafood in 2010 at the Port of Delcambre as a joint effort of the LSU AgCenter and Louisiana Sea Grant partnering with the Twin Parish Port Commission and Iberia Industrial Development Foundation.

“The goal was to provide a means of economic survival for the struggling owners of commercial fishing operations,” said Thomas Hymel, LSU AgCenter seafood project director. “When a shrimp boat lands at the port of Delcambre, the shrimp are now sold in a few hours where it used to take days.”

He said the Delcambre project’s success resulted in a $560,000 grant from the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission to expand the program to four regional projects across coastal Louisiana.

The Louisiana Direct Seafood website, http://louisianadirectseafood.com, provides information for consumers on how to buy seafood direct.

“This allows customers to contact fishermen and place an order for seafood before the boat returns to the dock,” Hymel said.

Links are provided to the four project websites — SouthShore Direct, LaTer Direct, Delcambre Direct and Cameron Direct. Each website provides a “Fresh Catch” message board to let consumers know when boats will be coming to port and the products that will be available. Consumers also are encouraged to sign up for the seasonal newsletter.

For fishermen, the website also has videos giving advice on using the program, marketing seafood, using social media to sell their products, boat engine maintenance, obtaining a fresh seafood license and details of hiring foreign labor, Hymel said.

So far, 30 participants are selling seafood from the Delcambre area, and 25 have signed up in Lafourche and Terrebonne parishes, with 30-40 expected in the New Orleans area, he said.

The program has not started in Cameron yet, and it will be more of a challenge because of its distant location to buyers, Hymel said.

The project is increasing sales and enabling fishermen to get more money for their catch. “They are getting two to three times the wholesale price,” Hymel said. “It is making a difference.”

The Delcambre project also developed a local brand offering a value-added frozen shrimp product sold as Vermilion Bay Sweet Shrimp. The shrimp are hand-peeled and deveined as a jumbo size. A gumbo shrimp pack is currently being developed under the same brand.

“We have businesses calling and asking for that,” Hymel said. “There is more demand than there is product, which is good.”