(The following letter to the editor was sent by Ewell Smith, the former executive director of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board, in response to the IntraFish op-ed column, US shrimp producers are their own worst enemies.)
As the former executive director of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board, I see a shift that’s not addressed in your menu-labeling article that’s core to the issue. Before I address that, let me address the debate that's been raging now for decades.
To your point, can BOTH domestic producers and importers do a better job? Yes. We advocated during my time for innovation and value-added products made with integrity … still do. That’s the future, bringing the best products to market. Those who do this with excellence will lead, survive and thrive.
What's the core issue not addressed in the article? It's the “culture” of Louisiana and other coastal communities around the country. In Louisiana, our “Cajun” and/or “Creole” culture is the issue. The people are central to the issue.
What shifted? The people of Louisiana and our chefs have rallied around our fishermen, watching them pick themselves up off the ground one major crisis after another going back to Hurricane Katrina. Their tenacity is inspiring.
Louisiana Seafood is more than just seafood; it embodies our rich culture where food is a celebration of life for all of us and our guests. It’s also a major tourism driver for the state.
For decades, we’ve seen all too often national restaurant chains (retail products too) use our “Cajun” and “Creole” culture to promote anything but Louisiana products around the US. To be candid, there have been some in Louisiana that haven’t been forthcoming with their customers by passing off a foreign product as a local product.
So what’s shifted? In the past, the restaurant community in Louisiana was against a bill like this. Now the bond between our fishing communities and restaurateurs is stronger. Over time the chefs and restaurateurs have become incredible spokespeople for our fishermen and their products through all these crisis events. The chefs have become champions for them.
Here’s the rest of the story - the menu bill passed 99 - 0 on the House side and 34 – 0 on the Senate side. A unanimous vote speaks volumes. That’s the people of Northern and coastal Southern Louisiana standing up collectively for our rich culture.
This all goes back to grassroots PR and marketing that started in our home state then to the world. Millions from across the globe travel to Louisiana annually to enjoy our unique culture and Louisiana Seafood, now they will be assured they will get the real deal.
Those restaurants in Louisiana that source the best quality local seafood products and are honest with their customers will see the benefits you ask about. When that’s backed up with strategic PR and marketing for Louisiana Seafood regionally, nationally, and globally, this will in turn strengthen the Louisiana Seafood community at large. Iron will sharpen iron.