Show Me Some Seafood, Mister!

00:00 April 11, 2011
By: 2Fik

BY Kaiya Morrison

Carnival is over. Plastic beads and tourists no longer line our streets. With their exodus, so too went all the meat. Literally.

From the Latin root words carnis and vale, the word literally means "goodbye, meat!" For Catholics, the time for Lenten observance is upon us. This means 40 days of sacrifice and for the devout, no meat on Friday. For seafood restaurant owners, this could be the much needed boost to move the industry back in black.

"Lent. That's when we make our money," Tracy Landry, owner of Don's Seafood Hut, explained. "The rest of the year, we're not hitting it quite as hard."

This year, quality returns are more necessary than ever.

"Business is starting to come back, and it looks like things are going to be good again," Landry declared in the days before Lent began. "We're not doing what we used to do, but we're paying the bills."

Although it seems like an all too distant memory, the Louisiana seafood industry is still waging a war to win back the national perception that was damaged with tens of thousands of crude oil. Clean up has moved from hazmat to business suits.

"We've gone from crisis stage to marathon stage," Ewell Smith, Executive Director for the Louisiana Seafood and Marketing Board, said about the current status of the Louisiana seafood industry.

"Our local markets are stronger," he continued. "But it's bad in other parts of the country."

Not so long ago, Smith was one of the many engaged in a long standing battle for funding from BP.

"They were questioning if our brand was damaged," Smith said in an interview with Where Y'at Magazine five months ago when describing an encounter with BP representatives.

Several times BP dismissed the Louisiana Seafood Marketing Board as well as former Lieutenant Governor Scott Angelle's request for funding. The two departments fought BP accountants several times and eventually landed the knock out blow that procured necessary funding.

"With the help from the BP dollars, that's going to improve things greatly," Smith said with an air of optimism in his voice that was not present during our previous interview. "They're finally taking responsibility for what they've done."

Funding will help create marketing campaigns to combat the lingering negative perception forced on the Louisiana Seafood brand.

"Our department received $30 million from BP, and tourism also received 30 million from BP," Smith noted. "The funding is spread out over three years, so we're going to spend that time trying to turn around the national perception.

But the battle will not be won simply through perception. Rather, keeping the supply during Lent abundant could make all the difference to the local economy.

"It's not as abundant as it used to be," Landy said when explaining the challenges with getting great seafood product. "We have been getting oysters from Texas and Mississippi and Alabama. From what I understand, they're seasons shut down around March, whereas Louisiana has seasons open year round. So when that happens, we're going to have a tough time. For now, the seafood has been beautiful."

"We're going to be challenged with oysters for the next couple of years," Smith explained. "We lost a lot of beds due to the fresh water diversions to push the water out and keep the oil from coming in. That's what killed all of our oysters; all the fresh water."

Hope, however, has returned to many in the industry, which gives the brand the fighting chance it's needed for so long.

"Every day that goes by, I feel a little more hopeful," Smith said. "Before, I was wondering where we would end up. Now, I'm encour aged by the things I've seen."

Much of that optimism is seen in the return of fishermen to the water. As Landry noted, the Louisiana seafood market has nearly year round product yields. After the oil flowed into the Gulf, fishermen left the water and began working for the same company that put them out of work.

"We make more money with BP," Jeffery Jackson, a Gulf coast fisherman, said during the height of the clean up effort to explain why he was working BP rather than pulling in the catch of the day. "The price of shrimp is way down. You can't really get rid of them with all the BP spill and stuff. There isn't anywhere to sell them to."

Lent, however, has increased that demand, so the highest percentage of fishermen are back on the water now since the fatal night of April 20. As New Orleans' merchants embark

on yet another anniversary surrounded by sorrow, they are reminded of former tragedy from which they were forced to recover.

"I think that what we saw with our experiences during Katrina is that whenever you go through a crisis, if you go at it with the right approach, you can come out of it stronger," Landry concluded. "It's just going to take some time to clean it up. We don't need to influence the entire world, we just need to get to those people who love to eat good food."

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