The LSU AgCenter and Louisiana Sea Grant are working to help the seafood industry, which is struggling with a massive financial challenge created by the coronavirus pandemic.
Restaurants that use large amounts of seafood are only offering carryout service, and they have drastically scaled back their seafood purchases.
“I’m sure it’s less than 10% of its previous quantity,” said Rusty Gaude, LSU AgCenter and Louisiana Sea Grant fisheries agent in the New Orleans area.
A seafood marketing program, Louisiana Direct Seafood, is one way of helping fishermen and dealers by connecting them directly with consumers.
The Louisiana Direct Seafood program helps consumers buy seafood from fishermen and vendors.
Fishermen in Cameron, Delcambre, Lafourche-Terrebonne and Southshore New Orleans areas post their fresh catch messages on a website. Customers are able to visit the site and see in real time who has fresh product ready for sale, where they are located and their contact information. Consumers can then contact the sellers directly to establish a price, place orders and arrange pickup at the docks or other locations.
The Louisiana Direct Seafood is on the internet at https://louisianadirectseafood.com. People also can sign up for newsletters and follow fishermen on regional Facebook pages.
The program also has an e-commerce site at https://louisianadirectseafoodshop.com where customers can buy fresh frozen seafood products caught and packed in Louisiana.
Fishermen are using the Louisiana Direct Seafood program and also are relying on their own lists of regular customers, Gaude said.
Jack Montoucet, secretary of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, said the fishing industry is going through a tough time, and buying local products could help it survive.
“Please find a way to include all Louisiana seafood products in your budgets,” Montoucet said. “Remember, the income received is key to maintaining the overall strength of our economy. And remember to ask if it was caught in Louisiana.”
Thomas Hymel, LSU AgCenter and Louisiana Sea Grant fisheries agent, said a fisher recently had 5,000 pounds of red snapper but couldn’t sell any of it to his restaurant customers or wholesale buyers.
Consumers were alerted to the available fish through social media, and restaurant owner Frank Randol, of Lafayette, allowed use of his seafood processing facility to sell the fish.
“We were able to help him move those fish in two days,” Hymel said.
It’s critical that seafood processors’ freezers currently filled with fish and other seafood are emptied in time for the spring shrimp season that usually opens in May.
“Everybody is sitting on freezers full of product that needs to move,” Hymel said.
The Louisiana Direct Seafood program has been in operation for eight years, and its usefulness to the fishing industry is becoming more evident as the usual supply chain is disrupted by the coronavirus, Hymel said.
“It’s a good deal for the fishermen, and it’s a good deal for the consumers. Everybody is looking at how to sell to the public,” he said.
Julie Falgout, LSU AgCenter and Louisiana Sea Grant fisheries agent in Terrebonne Parish, said not much seafood is being sold in her area either.
“Right now, it’s at a dead stop. Hopefully things will straighten out before the inshore shrimp season starts,” she said.
The larger offshore shrimp boats are docked because they don’t want to get caught with a large load of shrimp they can’t sell.
“They all came in, and they’re tied up,” Falgout said.
Boats that have freezers full of shrimp can wait until the market improves before selling their product.
Falgout is encouraged that 300 individuals have recently joined the Lafourche-Terrebonne area of the Louisiana Direct Seafood program.
Fresh-caught shrimp is weighed at the dock in Delcambre, Louisiana. Fishermen and seafood dealers are having a difficult time selling their products because of the curtailment of restaurant business resulting from the coronavirus. File photo by Bruce Schultz/LSU AgCenter
A shrimp boat leaves Intracoastal City, Louisiana. Inshore season usually opens in mid-May, and shrimpers are worried they will have difficulty selling their catch because of the slowdown in seafood purchases by restaurants and seafood dealers because of COVID-19. File photo by Bruce Schultz/LSU AgCenter
Cheryl Granger, of Maurice Louisiana, watches as her husband, Albert Granger, empties a sack of shrimp into an ice chest. They use the internet and the Louisiana Direct Seafood program to help sell their product from their business near Maurice. Albert Granger also has a shrimp boat. File photo by Bruce Schultz/LSU AgCenter