Analysis: Seafood bills become a thick gumbo

Two bills that would determine the future of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board – at some point this week – will likely come out as the winner in what appears to be a battle between fishermen, their supporters and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

Whichever bill comes out on top, there will still have to be a vote on the floor.

But the battle in this case has been in committee, as well as in rooms and offices outside the Capitol.

SB-184 by Sen. Gerald Long R-Winnfield was originally intended to place the Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board under tighter control from its parent agency, the LDWF.

In testimony before the committee Barham made increasingly clear that his intent was to give more oversight. That, Barham said directly, was because the board is now the recipient of $30 million from a BP grant, the company’s way of saying they are doing right by Louisiana because of its disastrous Deepwater Horizon spill.

In the past the board’s budget has been around $300,000.

“When this board was managing $300,000 per year that was not the issue,” Barham said of oversight. “But a new day dawned and they got tens of millions of dollars from BP. I don’t want to micromanage this board, 99 percent of the time I want them to be free to make the decisions they are going to make.”

Meanwhile SB-167 by Sen. Norby Chabert R-Houma would take the entire board away from LDWF and place it under the auspices of the Lieutenant Governor.

At present it has no strictures that would give the Lieutenant Governor control over hiring or firing, or veto power over promotion programs.

Fishermen and processors are now being told, however, that Barham has instructed Long to re-tool his bill, making the board a creature of its own with no oversight from any state agency at all, other than those built into the system such as a requirement for regular audits.

All of this despite his claims prior for more oversight now that more money is in play.

All of this has caused some confusion for the bill’s House sponsor, Rep. Gordon Dove R-Houma, who still maintains that oversight is essential.

“I think it is important for any agency, any board, to have someone looking over, to see that things are done right,” Dove said.

That’s all thrown seafood folks into a tailspin. But for now nobody is talking much about their preference, especially with the waters so stirred up.

Debate and discussion on the bills will continue in Baton Rouge this week.