Fishermen Explore New Sea-to-Plate Routes
Times have been tough for the Louisiana seafood industry, which is still battling safety misconceptions after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
Some fishermen, though, are finding creative ways to sell their catch directly to consumers, skipping the processing plants, wholesalers and retailers that define the conventional food supply chain. Employing a seemingly retro concept, these fishermen are using farmer’s markets and social-networking to increase their revenues.
Louisiana fishermen Pete Gerica, for example, whose sales are off 40 percent to 45 percent from last year, blames problems with the public’s perception of Gulf seafood for the low prices and low demand at the dock.
“Before the oil spill, I sold 50 percent of my catch by going direct to market,” says Gerica who catches shrimp, crab and fin fish. “Now it’s all direct market because the docks aren’t paying, and the only two guys I know who are paying for big shrimp — they can’t always buy.”
Instead, Gerica’s wife, Clara, sells their catch weekly at three different farmer’s markets in the New Orleans area. Their “Pete and Clara at the Market” stands are popular with some of the city’s top chefs.
“I can get $1.40 per pound at the dock,” says Gerica, “and $4 and $5 per pound at the market.”
Tapping in to the power of social-networking, an online marketplace for fishermen in Delcambre, Louisiana, allows them to directly sell fresh shrimp and other seafood to consumers as boats are pulling into dock.
“We have a box full of big 21-25′s and 26-30′s heads-on shrimp on board … in Delcambre this Fri … please call,” wrote Capt. Robert Pendarvis recently on the “Fresh Catch” page.
Fresh Catch is a fishermen’s version of Facebook, featuring profiles of local fishermen listed by the species they catch. It’s an innovative project by the Twin Parish Port Commission, along with its partner, Louisiana State University (LSU) Ag Center and Sea Grant.
Before they even make the trip out into the Gulf, fishermen can take orders for their future catch and then announce via the website and e-mail blasts when they are arriving back at port.
“Cutting out the seafood market, I can get about double the price for the shrimp,” says Pendarvis. The extra revenue is desperately needed. On his last three trips, he hasn’t made enough to cover expenses.
“Shrimping used to be fun,” says Pendarvis. “Now it’s a chore.”
While the fishermen’s ingenuity isn’t making them rich, it is helping them stay afloat during a tumultuous season.
What the fishermen have is safe and delicious seafood; what the fishermen need is more marketplaces across the nation in which to sell their products.