Fish for Cash: Summit focuses on money-saving tips

Fourth annual Bayou Lafourche Cleanup set for Saturday
March 12, 2015
Xavier Keion Richard
March 19, 2015
Fourth annual Bayou Lafourche Cleanup set for Saturday
March 12, 2015
Xavier Keion Richard
March 19, 2015

Fishermen have been living off the water here in the Bayou Region for generations.

That hasn’t changed.

But what has changed during the decades of fish, shrimp and oyster harvesting is technology and ideas that could make life easier and more prosperous for them. Toward that end, Louisiana’s Fisheries Forward program held a special free program last week, with a goal of bringing those ideas and technology directly to harvesters and others in the industry.

The 2015 Louisiana Fisheries Forward Summit at the Houma-Terrebonne Civic Center last week was well-attended, and organizers said they saw it as a success. It is the product of a joint effort between Louisiana SeaGrant and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

“We are the largest seafood producing state in the lower 48, and we saw what they did up there in Alaska where they took five-cent salmon and turned it into two dollar fillets, and it’s all though the education of their fishermen, cold chain management, quality management and branding,” said the program’s director, Thomas Hymel. “We’re doing a lot of the same things here but doing it our down the bayou sort of way.”

Hymel demonstrated to fishermen attending the summit how to maximize the value of the shrimp they harvest through value-added packaging as opposed to simply selling them to processing plants.

“Our fisheries is a renewable natural resource, and the more value we can add to it, the more powerful this resource is to this economy,” Hymel explained. “If we send timber out of state and it gets cut into boards and made into furniture in Arkansans, all we got was to sell the timber. So if we take our shrimp, and we can turn it into a really nice consumer pack or an etouffee or a stuffed shrimp or a seafood patty, then we get a whole lot more out of it for its value that we would have in its original form.”

Hymel said those who catch fish, pack some of them into vacuum bags in freezers and sell them to a customer base can get top dollar. He added that a booth at the summit explained how to grow oysters in areas where they can be perfectly-shaped.

“There’s a lot of real sharp folks in the Terrbeonne-Lafourche region that are doing innovative things in seafood. It’s limited. There’s a finite amount of wild seafood in Louisiana. There’s a huge market around this region and around the rest of the country that’s looking for this really, really high quality stuff,” Hymel said.

Locals can even use the websites and the more local, where they can sell their catch directly to the public.

“They can post messages that they have seafood for sale, and their phone is going to ring,” said Hymel.

Other events at the summit included discussions on just about anything pertaining to going offshore from gear to safety to rules to violation protocol and much more. There was also an open forum where people could walk around and speak one-on-one with an expert.

During the summit, the parish presidents of both Terrebonne and Lafourche spoke as well as Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne.

“We really appreciate everything that you do for Louisiana’s economy and everything you do that represents the spirit of Louisiana,” Dardenne said to a room full of fishermen. “When people think about our state, we want them to always think about Louisiana seafood and think about the families that for generations have been involved in this industry and who are hoping and praying that their children, the next generations, will be able to continue the work that they’ve done.”

SeaGrant and LSU Ag Center Extension Agent for Lafourche, Terrebonne and Assumption parishes Alan Matherne said the summit, held in Houma for the third consecutive year, represents education and networking opportunities for fishermen.

“We’re just trying to get the guys to where they’re a little more knowledgeable of what’s going on in the industry and try to help move it forward,” Matherne said. “These guys can get together. They can meet with one another. They can go through the vending booths. They can find out about different programs that are available, different products and once a year they can all come interact with one another.”

People from across Louisiana and Mississippi’s coasts attended the event in Houma. Among them was Slidell fisherman Gerard Schuler.

“We learned a lot of good things,” Schuler said. “We get a lot out of it. It’s hard to explain. It’s so much material. I’d recommend it for anybody that wants to be in this kind of business.”

For those who missed the summit a similar event called Dock Day will be held April 7 in Dulac and April 22 in Larose. Fisheries Forward representatives will show off a refrigerator with a brine freezer, plate freezer and a chiller system at those events, to show fishermen how to maximize revenue by freezing brine shrimp properly.

“There’s a big disparity in the industry in the range of the quality of brine frozen shrimp, so we’re going to try to solve some of that by showing them how to do it right,” Hymel explained. “There are people now that are selling plate frozen whole shrimp and getting top dollar for them. We want to show the rest of the industry how to do that.”

There will also be a trade show and networking opportunities at the Dulac and Larose events.

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Louisiana Fisheries Forward program director Thomas Hymel demonstrates a quicker and more profitable way of handling shrimp.