Program aims to boost La. seafood industry

A program to help the state’s seafood industry by establishing better ties between fishermen and consumers got a major boost Tuesday when one of the first products designated as “Certified Authentic Louisiana Wild Seafood” was unveiled.

The one-pound frozen packs of Vermilion Bay Sweet White Shrimp are processed, packaged and distributed in Delcambre, said Thomas Hymel, project manager of Louisiana Direct Seafood.

The Louisiana Seafood Promotion & Marketing Board and Louisiana departments of Wildlife and Fisheries, Agriculture and Health and Hospitals joined together to establish the voluntary certification program to hammer home the message that consumers are buying high quality Louisiana seafood.

“We’re one of the first Gulf states to actually certify seafood as genuine, authentic Louisiana seafood,” Rene LeBreton, a program manager for wildlife and fisheries, said during a news conference at LSU’s Energy, Coast and Environmental Building.

“We saw what hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Ike did to our fishing communities and processors and it was absolutely devastating,” Hymel said.

The choice was either for the industry to roll over and die or try something different, he said.

Officials with LSU began working with the Delcambre shrimpers. One of the first things that happened was a direct-marketing campaign for the fishermen was developed with $5,000. “Prior to that, it was illegal to sell fish across the dock,” Hymel said.

This led to DelcambreDirectSeafood.com, which was created four years ago. The website puts shrimpers in touch with potential customers. Shrimp boat captains post on the site when they are about to return to dock. Customers can contact them by phone and arrange to buy some of their catch.

The program has expanded to other parts of the state, including the south shore of New Orleans, Lafourche-Terrebonne and Cameron parishes.

Hymel said this is allowing fishermen to treat their catch as a product that can be sold directly to consumers.

This allows shrimpers to make $1 to $1.50 more per pound. That’s significant when you are catching 5,000 to 6,000 pounds of shrimp a year, he said.

While Delcambre Direct deals with fresh shrimp, the frozen packs were introduced to help the industry during the off-season.

“This keeps our local communities going strong and our families going strong,” said Ewell Smith, executive director of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion & Marketing Board.

One-and-half-pound packs of 26 to 30 count shrimp were introduced last year and can be found at high-end meat markets in Lafayette and Delcambre. Hymel said the packs, which are hand-peeled and hand-deveined, sell for $18 to $20.

“We can’t produce enough of these packages,” he said.

The new one-pound packs, which sell for $8 to $10, are available at the website CajunGrocer.com and some local grocery stores. The shrimp are 70 to 90 count a pound in size, making them ideal for gumbo, pasta dishes or po-boys.

“This is for the discriminating Cajun gourmet,” Hymel said. “This is just like you bought some shrimp on the dock, peeled it yourself, put in a pack and froze it.”

Hymel said there are plans to introduce more certified seafood products, including black drum and wild catfish caught in the state’s coastal marshes.