A new generic seafood marketing program moved one step closer to reality this month when the Seafood Promotion Task Group under NOAA’s Marine Fisheries Advisory Committee (MAFAC) kicked out its recommendations for creating such an effort.

Actually, it would be recreating the seafood promotion program, which debuted in 1986 and folded in 1991 after Congressional funding dried up and the industry declined to tax itself to continue the effort, which brought us the “Eat fish twice a week” tagline.

MAFAC has been working for more than two years on re-establishing a national generic seafood marketing program to increase US seafood consumption.

So, what is the group recommending and will the industry get behind the idea?

1. MAFAC recommends the establishment of a new National Seafood Council to conduct education, research, promotion and marketing with the goal of increasing US seafood consumption, improving the health of American consumers and increasing the return on investment to the US seafood industry.

2. The council would focus on the seafood industry as a whole and not at the species-specific level and would cover wild and farmed seafood.

3. According to MAFAC’s recommendations, the council would provide the following:

·A unified voice for the industry
· Common and consistent positive messaging to consumers
· Support for US products and industry “without disparaging imports.”
· Direct consumer marketing covering the health benefits and cooking techniques. It would also address misinformation affecting the reputation of seafood
· Research and collection of data related to boosting seafood consumption
· Conduit to economists, market experts and other industry experts when needed
· An overall generic US seafood brand that complements other regional and sector-specific marketing efforts.
· Telling the story of seafood from harvester to consumer.

4. Any council should have established metrics of success and evaluation.

5. Funding for the council should come from a dedicated new source of congressionally mandated appropriation that does not detract from other funds. The funding should be between $10 million and $25 million annually and should be appropriated for a commitment of five years initially from Saltonstall-Kennedy (SK) funds. MAFAC is not recommending the industry impose an assessment on itself to pay for the program, at least at the outset of the program.

6. The council, although overseen by NOAA, would be led by an independent executive director, staff and 17-member board, the members of which would be appointed by the Secretary of Commerce. And the new council would be less producer-heavy than its predecessor and would include marketing representatives, tribal groups, public health and nutrition representatives as well as retail and foodservice experts.

7. NOAA Fisheries should have oversight of the council, MAFAC recommends, but should work closely with the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) to “utilize their expertise with commodity boards, such as those established to promote other food products such as beef and avocados.

8. NOAA Fisheries should continue to use its FishWatch program as a resource for the industry and consumers and complement the work of a national seafood council.

9. NOAA Fisheries should draft amendments to the current Fish and Seafood Promotion Act (FSPA) to implement the new program.

How bad do you want it?

I applaud MAFAC for its work. It researched the successes and failures of the first national generic seafood promotion effort and reached out to a broad coalition of seafood, academic and retail and foodservice experts in developing its recommendations.

Nevertheless, there is still lots of work to do before MAFAC’s blueprint can become an actual functioning council. Asking Congress for money is never simple, so it will be important to find powerful lawmakers willing to lead the charge to secure the money needed.

These powerful lawmakers will want to be assured that the industry truly supports such an effort. Clearly if the taxpayers are paying for it, support is likely to be easy to find.

So, assuming NOAA puts forth MAFAC's recommendations to the Secretary of Commerce, it will ultimately come down to whether the industry really wants to get behind this effort. Do you?

Any comments, complaints, retaliatory rants, please feel free to email me at: john.fiorillo@intrafish.com


PS: Click here to read the full 46 page report to understand in greater detail these recommendations.