Seafood

Introduction

The seafood industry had its beginnings in the 19th century along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and residents along the Coast and across the nation have long enjoyed the bounty of Mississippi’s harvests. The Coast’s rich maritime history has through the centuries weathered economic upheaval, recessions, storms, and disasters (both man-made and natural), yet this tradition of supplying seafood and fishing opportunities for residents and visitors endures. In terms of pounds of seafood harvested, Mississippi is the sixth largest seafood producing state in the nation and second in the Gulf of Mexico region behind Louisiana. The Mississippi Gulf Coast provides wild American harvested seafood, primarily shrimp, oysters, crabs, and finfish, to families across the state and the nation.

Looking back at the last quarter century, it’s apparent that while the state is a leading seafood supplier, and the Gulf is a global recreational fishing destination, the current generation of fishers and small businesses that support the industry are operating during one of the most economically difficult times in modern history. Unlike some regions of the country, this is largely not due to a lack of natural resources to harvest but instead is due to the rapid rise of the global aquaculture industry and the unprecedented string of calamities that began with Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and worsened after the BP oil disaster.

The Gulf of Mexico is the largest supplier of fresh, wild caught shrimp. However, prior to Hurricane Katrina in the 2005, the Gulf’s shrimping industry confronted competition from farm-raised imports that resulted in reduced prices and new market realities. While consumers prefer wild, fresh caught shrimp to farm-raised shrimp, they were largely not aware that imported shrimp is farm-raised. Due to increasing supply from these producers, and lack of sustained marketing campaigns by domestic producers, the prices paid for shrimp by consumers declined and were passed on to harvesters. Meanwhile there were increased costs due to harvesting and processing increases, higher fuel, regulatory requirements, and maintaining working waterfront locations.

Just prior to Katrina, the shrimp industry successfully brought court action designed to end dumping on the U.S. market to level the playing field; then Katrina disrupted supply chains. However, even with countervailing duties in place, the domestic shrimp industry, which is the backbone of the Gulf Coast fishery, has gone from being the primary supplier to U.S. markets to representing today about only 10 percent of what Americans consume.

For more than a decade, Americans have consumed more shrimp than any other type of seafood, and the amount of shrimp that Americans are consuming continues to rise. In fact, in 2009 Americans ate an average of 4.1 pounds of shrimp per person–nearly twice the per-capita consumption in 1990. Competition within the U.S. shrimp markets with foreign producers is expected to continue as aquaculture producers utilize more direct transportation routes and find lower ways to reduce production and transportation costs.

The aquaculture industry also has the ability to grow products to meet expected consumer preferences and deliver those products to markets in a uniform manner. They also have significantly larger and more aggressive marketing campaigns that are funded by multi-national corporations and national marketing boards. What they do not have is a preferred consumer preference for wild-caught product and the proximity to U.S. markets that Mississippi has.

The Seafood GoTeam proposes using RESTORE Act funds to implement voluntary supply chain change from the boat to the consumer while also increasing marketing budgets to differentiate Mississippi products and increase job growth and small business opportunities in Mississippi.

Mississippi has a unique opportunity to use RESTORE Act funding to turn these unprecedented challenges into a success story that creates a vibrant, fully self-sustaining, profitable recreational and commercial seafood industry. The seafood industry should incorporate and safeguard the best elements of the past integrated with urgently needed financial investments in technology, infrastructure, and marketing concepts to create a vibrant, environmentally sustainable maritime environment.

The Seafood GoTeam identified six priorities necessary to sustain and improve the industry– seafood promotion, habitat development and restoration, infrastructure, workforce and economic development, seafood research, and commercial and recreational fishing. Each of these areas is intertwined into the rich cultural heritage of the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and each of these plays a key role in determining the future of the seafood industry and how the Gulf Coast will be seen by the next generation of residents and visitors. These priorities may or may not be eligible for RESTORE Act funding as the processes and criteria have not yet been instituted at the time of the GoTeam’s report. The priorities’ inclusion in the report represent the work of the GoTeam in identifying current issues and possible remedies for the seafood industry.

Seafood Promotion

The seafood industry recognizes that the only way to grow the industry is to enhance the value of existing production. An effective marketing program should be developed and utilized not only in the Gulf region, but nationally to help increase Gulf seafood value. Options that should be researched and considered include the establishment of certification and traceability programs, which are being developed and implemented in other states such as Louisiana, to increase the value of Mississippi seafood products.

Gulf seafood should be marketed as a healthy, quality, American product. An effective marketing program will differentiate wild-caught as a superior product compared to imported products. As restaurant owners and chefs seek inspiration, there is an opportunity to share the benefits of cooking Mississippi Gulf seafood. Once they are aware that Gulf seafood is the safest, highest quality product available, this image will be transferred to their customers, which in turn will drive demand and influence what seafood distributors buy and make available to their customers.

Habitat Development and Restoration

There is limited habitat for marine resources in Mississippi waters and offshore. Increasing both commercial and recreational seafood species such as crab, oyster, shrimp, and finfish, requires a twofold solution:

• Increasing available habitat for these species provides more area for marine populations to thrive;
• Utilization of fish re-stocking programs, which will in turn increase seafood populations.

This benefits both the commercial and recreational areas of the seafood industry while helping the overall economy as well.

Infrastructure

While some seafood-related businesses can be located away from the water, many are water dependent. The Gulf Coast is losing its “working waterfronts,” the water access along coastal and estuarine areas that support commercial and recreational fishing and other seafood related industries. Focus needs to be placed on preserving
these areas by the purchase and designation of areas specifically as “working waterfronts.”

The GoTeam identified a need for safe harbor for all vessels. Access to waterfront and safe anchorage should be purchased and designated as such to ensure the safety of the seafood fleets.

Seafood Research

The Gulf of Mexico is an evolving ecosystem. Current and ongoing research regarding the dependence of seafood resources on this ecosystem is critical to the vitality of the Gulf. Specific research areas include:

• Water movement patterns to determine movement of larval life stages of shrimp, crabs, oysters, and some finfish
• Understanding of water quality issues that can guide management issues focused on improving water quality throughout the Northern Gulf, and in particular in the areas supporting oysters
• Identification of declining species and management decisions that can be made to reduce or eliminate these declines
• Bi-catch reduction to ensure that finfish food sources are maximized

Each of these research areas will serve to sustain vibrant and healthy marine populations as we move into the future.

Commercial and Recreational Fishing

The commercial and recreational marine fishing community provides a significant economic impact to the State of Mississippi. In order for fishing to thrive, the natural marine environment has to be protected and re-established. The continued increase of marine populations through the development of habitat and “population enhancement” projects should be undertaken to ensure a vibrant marine population to support fishing along the Coast.

The establishment of educational programs can encourage children and youth to view fishing as a healthy pastime and possible career. Teaching the importance of the Coast’s marine habitat and environment and the need for the continued conservation of these is vital to the future success of the seafood industry.

Workforce Development

Workforce development and training touches all facets of the seafood industry. This not only includes fishermen and processors, but also distributors, wholesalers, retailers, chefs, and all areas of foodservice. Fishermen can benefit from educational programs in how to bring in the highest quality product–reinforcing the adage that there is more to a quality catch than just throwing out one’s nets. This enables them to obtain the highest price per pound for their efforts.

Restaurant owners and chefs turn to retailers and wholesalers for knowledge and information about the seafood they purchase and serve to their customers. They should be well informed with the most accurate and current information. Training should be made available for all Mississippians who perform jobs associated with the seafood industry from harvesting to processing to retail and wholesale. Not only is training needed for seafood-specific jobs, but also for off-season jobs that traditional fisherman can perform to supplement their commercial fishing careers.

An additional issue that should receive focused attention within the seafood workforce is the language barrier along the Coast.

Once these areas have been addressed, and a stable and growing workforce is in place, the growth of the seafood industry will be seen well into the future.

Leveraging Resources

The keys to having a successful sustainable long-term seafood industry and vibrant recreational fishery can be seen by examining and leveraging the “supply chain needs” in both industries while aggressively leveraging resources to engage in prolonged multi-year, multi-tiered, multi-layered marketing campaigns that promote and differentiate Mississippi and Gulf seafood products over imports and highlight the recreational fishing opportunities and experiences.

Essential to the success of making investments in these small businesses is identifying and leveraging resources to ensure that the natural resources that are at the heart of these businesses are recovered and positioned to be sustainable and used repeatedly in the future.

Both fishery sectors need to have access to modern, advanced market intelligence that takes into account existing and expected consumer demand and the promotional opportunities that exist to expand current markets while opening new markets in the U.S. and globally. Both sectors also need to have available a suite of financing options and small business tools that are specific to the unique needs of managing a natural resource-based industry. Decisions about the success of a fishery need to be made at the individual firm or boat level as owners know best how to revitalize, retool, refinance, diversify, or re-position their operations so that they can compete with competitors.

The other key to leveraging resources available to the seafood industry is to find the common themes with a seafood focus with other GoCoast 2020 GoTeams. Each overlap strengthens the need to focus resources in that program or project, which can be seen in the main areas the seafood industry is focused on:

• The overall need for infrastructure improvements for fishermen
• Habitat restoration and development to create marine habitat and increase marine populations
• Workforce development to have the necessary and properly trained workforce to benefit from these improved infrastructure areas and marine population
• Economic impacts from commercial and recreational fishing along the Gulf waters
• Focused research into seafood specific resources and proper management of those resources
• Promotion of seafood to the consumer and to markets which boost industry sales

When viewing the long-term focus areas of the seafood industry in comparison to the other areas focused on in the overall Mississippi GoCoast 2020 Report, the needs are great and necessary for the creation of a vibrant and sustainable seafood industry for the future Gulf Coast.

To properly develop a plan to create a self-sustainable seafood industry for future generations, one must look at what programs are currently in place that are beneficial, and what should be done in the future to complement those programs.

The following are programs currently in place addressing the needs of the seafood industry and coastal habitat:

Tidelands Trust Fund Program (Office of the Mississippi Secretary of State) – The program is dedicated to the conservation, reclamation, and preservation of Mississippi’s tidelands, while enhancing its current public access areas. Additional financial investments from the RESTORE Act could be used to augment these programs to further protect areas that fall under this existing program.

Mississippi Coastal Preserves Program – This program is focused on effectively preserving, conserving, restoring, and managing Mississippi’s coastal ecosystems to perpetuate their natural characteristics, features, and  ecological integrity, safeguarding these assets so that the social, economic, and aesthetic values exist for future benefit. The long-term vision of the program is the management of Mississippi’s Coastal Preserve sites to provide long-term benefits to the natural resources and economic value of the region. To date this is being accomplished by the enhancement and perpetuation of approximately 83,000 acres of important coastal wetland resources, providing compatible recreational use, research in coastal resource management, and protection of native, threatened, or endangered species. Additional financial investments from the RESTORE Act could be used to augment these programs to further protect areas that fall under this existing program.

Mississippi Seafood Marketing Program (Mississippi Department of Marine Resources) –After the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, BP committed funding to the State of Mississippi for three years (ending in 2014) for seafood marketing campaigns along the Gulf and around the country. The Mississippi Seafood Marketing Program has developed a long-range marketing program geared to increasing the value of Mississippi seafood through campaigns directed at consumers, distributors, retailers, wholesalers, chefs, restaurants, and other organizations related to the seafood and foodservice industries. It works cooperatively with the Mississippi Restaurant Association, tourism entities, the recreational fishing industry, and the Gulf Coast Seafood Coalition, which includes representatives from the five Gulf States. The program components include:

• Use of a website (msseafood.com), Facebook, Twitter, and other social media to increase interest and demand for Mississippi seafood products
• Exhibiting and promoting Mississippi Gulf seafood at major seafood and food shows locally, regionally, and nationally. This face-to-face contact with consumers, buyers, and distributes foodservice personnel offers an opportunity to taste Mississippi Gulf seafood, provides sources to purchase the products, and information on the safety, health, and the superior quality of the seafood
• Promotional advertising in various magazines directed to consumers and the restaurant industry, use of television such as Mississippi Public Broadcasting’s “Fit to Eat,” and billboards along the Gulf Coast.

NOAA Emergency Disaster Relief Program (Hurricane Katrina) – Following Hurricane Katrina, Congress provided Emergency Disaster Relief funds which were focused on direct aid to fishermen, restoration of marine and coastal habitat, and other projects. The Mississippi Department of Marine Resources used some of those funds to create and restore near shore and offshore marine habitats.

The Seafood GoTeam identified the following initiatives that could have a positive impact on Mississippi’s seafood industry:

Mississippi Coastal Improvement Program (MsCIP) – MsCIP is a $1.2 billion comprehensive program of proposed improvements for coastal Mississippi consisting of structural, non-structural, and environmental project elements. These elements are intended to address hurricane and storm damage reduction, salt water intrusion, shoreline erosion, and fish and wildlife preservation. MsCIP is structured in three phases, the first of which is to address the most urgent storm protection and restoration priorities to include restoration of the barrier islands and other identified interim needs. Phases Two and Three of MsCIP consist of identified potential projects that are recommended for further study and intended for possible implementation over a 30- to 40-year period. Provisions under the MsCIP program for purchase of developed properties from willing sellers for the purpose of converting those properties to wetland habitats were not funded by Congress. They could be supported with RESTORE Act funding. Additional financial investments from the RESTORE Act could be used to fully fund the MsCIP program to quickly protect areas that can benefit coastal communities while strengthening the resiliency of habitats.

Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force – The Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force was created by Executive Order in October, 2010, to coordinate the long-term conservation and restoration of the Gulf Coast. The Task Force developed their own restoration strategy for the Gulf Coast, the Gulf of Mexico Regional Ecosystem Restoration Strategy. The overall goals for this effort were to restore and conserve habitat, restore water quality, replenish and protect living coastal and marine resources, and enhance community resilience. Public-private partnerships are emphasized in addition to collaboration among state and federal agencies.

Housing and Urban Development – Community Development Block Grant Funds (HUD-CDBG) – After the 2005 and 2008 hurricanes, Gulf Coast states were provided emergency HUD-CDBG funds to implement community recovery. With great flexibility states were allowed to design a range of programs to address community recovery needs with even greater flexibility allowed for programs that benefitted low to moderate income individuals. Annually states are provided traditional CDBG funds to address the needs of low-moderate individuals and communities. As a matching program, and with fishing communities and the industry comprised of low-moderate income individuals, any unused disaster CDBG funds could be used to address the needs of the commercial fishery and to provide match for communities to engage in projects that address a storm-related impact. As a matching program, RESTORE Act funds could be leveraged and provided as match to assist communities engaged in projects that benefit the fishery, including land acquisition and/or to return facilities to commerce under a working waterfront model.

DHS FEMA – Public Assistance (PA) Funds –Public Assistance funds are made available to assist state, county, and local governments and specific NGOs rebuild and or replace storm impacted infrastructure. For the fishery industry, PA funds can help rebuild publicly-owned infrastructure and equipment like boat ramps, ports, docks, and harbors along with the associated infrastructure that is based on publicly-owned facilities. FEMA also provides funds to remove and clear marine debris with documentation, and they can pay to restore and rehabilitate impacted barrier islands. FEMA provides hazard mitigation funds to develop projects that could use natural systems to reduce storm impacts to coastal structures. Following Katrina, Mississippi was able to do some cleaning of storm-related marine debris. As a cost share program, FEMA funds, while more cumbersome than RESTORE dollars, provide an excellent opportunity for the seafood industry to position critical assets in areas that are eligible so that if critical infrastructure is damaged it would require a much smaller “pay-out” to repair when future storms hit the area.

Additional Seafood Resources

US Small Business Association: Provides a range of programs. The U.S. Export Assistance Center is staffed by professionals from the SBA, the U.S. Department of Commerce, the U.S. Export-Import Bank, and other public and private organizations. Together, their mission is to provide small- or medium-sized business with assistance on competing in today’s global marketplace.

Conclusion

The Seafood GoTeam agreed that Mississippi has a unique opportunity to use RESTORE Act funding to turn the unprecedented challenges facing the seafood industry into a success story, one that is vibrant, fully self-sustaining, and profitable. The seafood industry should incorporate and safeguard the best elements of the past and integrate them with financial investments in technology, infrastructure, and marketing to create a robust, environmentally sustainable maritime environment.

The Seafood GoTeam identified six priorities necessary to sustain and improve the industry-seafood promotion; habitat development and restoration; infrastructure, workforce and economic development; seafood research; and commercial and recreational fishing. Each of these areas are intertwined with the rich cultural heritage of the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and each of these will play a key role in determining the future of the seafood industry and how the Gulf Coast will be seen by the next generation of residents and visitors.

Seafood GoTeam

Co-Chair      Rep. Jessica Upshaw (District 95)
Co-Chair      Dr. Bill Walker, Mississippi Department of Marine Resources

Sen. Debbie Dawkins (District 48)
Sean Desporte, Desporte & Sons
Richard Gollot, Golden Gulf Coast Packing
Rep. Jeffrey Guice (District 114)
Brent Gutierrez, Custom Pack, Inc.
A.J. Holloway, Mayor, City of Biloxi
Joe Jenkins, Crystal Seas Oysters
Mark Mavar, Biloxi Freezing & Processing, Inc.
Capt. Jay Trochesset, Silver Dollar Fishing Charters

Non-governmental Organization Advisors:

Kaitlin Troung, Asian Americans for Change
Kris Van Orsdel, Ocean Conservancy