Grand Caillou native takes fisheries post

A shrimp processor with deep Terrebonne roots has been selected by Gov. John Bel Edwards for a seat on the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission.

Robert J. “Bobby” Samanie III, who grew up watching his father build on the family’s shrimp business in Dulac, then ran it himself, was one of two appointments to the commission announced Thursday. Alfred R. “Al” Sunseri, of New Orleans, president of the P&J Oyster Company, was also appointed.

Both men will provide voices from the seafood industry and are technically also responsible for seeing that the interests of the fur industry are adequately aired. But Samanie, in a Thursday night interview, said he is mindful that as a commissioner, his duty is to look out for all who are involved with harvesting Louisiana’s resources, as well as for those resources themselves.

Citing a quote from Teddy Roosevelt etched into the wall of New York City’s Museum of Natural History, Samanie said, “We have to be stewards of our natural resources to preserve them for our children and grandchildren.”

This is Samanie’s second round on the commission. He was appointed by Gov. Kathleen Blanco in 2004, and served until 2009, part of that time as chairman. Samanie has served as president of the American Shrimp Processors Association, the Governor’s Task Force on Shrimp Management, the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board, the Louisiana Shrimp Industry Review Panel, the Louisiana Seafood Standards of Identity Task Force and the Louisiana Seafood Industry Advisory Board.

The commission on which he will sit has authority over rules and regulations in the state; It sets the dates for various seasons, has the power to declare emergency season closures, and also plays a role in terms of enforcement.

Samanie said he is looking forward to working with the Wildlife and Fisheries director appointed by Edwards, former U.S. Rep. Charlie Melancon. Samanie has faith, he said, in Melancon’s ability to manage fisheries and other natural resources on the basis of science, rather than personalities or politics.

“I have great respect for Mr. Charlie Melancon and his plans for running Wildlife and Fisheries,” Samanie said. “I know that his heart is in the right place and that he is a good man.”

Samanie and his wife, Mona, moved to Mereaux in St. Bernard Parish in 2012. He works as the manager for Lafitte Frozen Foods and Mona is the manager of the company’s plant in Violet, one of the largest in the state.

Samanie has maintained that while he grew up in and understands the needs of processors in Louisiana’s seafood infrastructure, he is also sympathetic to the challenges fishermen face, noting that local boats are floating small family businesses. During tense times in the seafood industry, particularly when shrimp prices crashed in 2001 and 2002, Samanie maintained that his biggest hope was for a united industry that would work for economic strength on the sea and the land.

A graduate of South Terrebonne High School, the 55-year-old Samanie worked for his father, Robert Samanie Jr., who led his family company out of the canning business and into peeling and freezing. The elder Samanie offered his congratulations by telephone Thursday evening.

Kimberly Chauvin, who runs shrimp companies and boats in Terrebonne with her husband David, said she is pleased that someone with knowledge of the industry was appointed by Edwards.

“Just that this last commission meeting shows that we need someone that understands one of the top industries in Louisiana,” Chauvin said. “I wish him well on his appointment.”

The commission’s decision to start the current brown shrimp season late in May was criticized by some. The commission made the decision after hearing from conflicting industry voices as well as biologists.

“This industry is in my heart and soul,” Samanie said, expressing a commitment to do everything he can to help fishermen and processors struggling against the weight of low dock prices, largely due to volumes of overseas shrimp making its way to U.S. docks. “This is a critical time for the industry, the industry is facing some hardship and I want to represent it to the best of my ability.”

At Lafitte, Samanie has taken a lead role in marketing his company’s shrimp, appearing at food conventions in a fisherman’s cap as “Captain Bob,” the name on a popular brand of frozen Louisiana shrimp the company markets.

Samanie credits his ability to stick with the industry even through rough times to his wife, and says he is pleased to have her support as he begins his new commission duties.

“She is happy for me and she is proud of me, she is my rock and she is right there with me,” he said. “We have always worked together in the same companies.”

The couple frequently visits Terrebonne Parish, where their children and grandchildren live. Mona Samanie’s relations primarily live in Dularge. Moving to an eastern bayou community required adjustments, but the couple says they have done just fine.

“We’ve made new friends and the people of St. Bernard are fine people,” Samanie said, speaking of his newfound ties with St. Bernard’s Islenos population. “But we like visiting home, and we go whenever we can.”

Terrebonne Parish native Robert J. “Bobby” Samanie III has been named to the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission by Gov. John Bel Edwards.