Alabama Fisheries Marketing Board
Riley to create seafood marketing board
MOBILE, Alabama — Repairing the image of Gulf Coast seafood will be a difficult marketing battle, one that $9 million from BP PLC can only begin to fund, according to Alabama seafood industry leaders.
But those leaders said they are grateful that one of Gov. Bob Riley’s top priorities in the coming weeks is to create a state panel whose purpose will be to reverse the widespread belief that Gulf of Mexico seafood is contaminated by oil and dispersants.
“The governor understands that correcting perception is the first step, and we’re thankful for that,” said Ernie Anderson, president of the Organized Seafood Association of Alabama based in Bayou La Batre.
The Alabama Coastal Recovery Commission on Wednesday presented Riley and other state leaders with a report that detailed the impact of the BP oil spill on south Alabama and offered a series of recommendations on how to protect the coast from future catastrophes.
Riley announced that he would soon enact one of the report’s recommendations by creating the Alabama Fisheries Marketing Board.
The day after the commission’s “Roadmap to Resilience” report was released, Riley’s press secretary Todd Stacy said the governor had not yet issued an executive order on the seafood marketing initiative and may not do so for a few weeks, so most details about the proposed board remain unclear.
The board would not only market Gulf seafood, but also fund scientific testing for contaminants, he said.
The state remains in negotiations with BP to obtain funds for economic recovery, Stacy said. Riley said Wednesday that the marketing effort could get $9 million from BP.
George Crozier, director of the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, said that amount was “certainly a lot of money” to most individuals, but may not take its efforts in marketing and testing too far.
“This would have to be a Gulfwide marketing effort that combined the efforts of the seafood industry in the affected states,” Crozier said.
Such a board could do much to mitigate against unsettling news, such as the decision late last month by the U.S. National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration to close 4,213 square miles of the Gulf of Mexico to deep-water trawling for the specialty shrimp royal red, Crozier said.
The closure was done in reaction to a royal red shrimper finding tarballs in his net, not in response to tests showing chemical contamination in the flesh of shrimp themselves.
“Without the data to justify the closure, you’re just hammering the fishery,” Crozier said. “It’s not digestible, anyway. There’s always been plenty of other stuff on the bottom of the Gulf that people also wouldn’t want to eat, but the shrimp don’t digest it, either.”
In this case, a state or regional marketing effort could buy ads and commercials explaining that NOAA was acting out of caution only, and that royal reds are a specialty shrimp, not the everyday pink shrimp used in most dishes, he said.
Also, independent tests could show that the shrimp are clean and safe to eat, he said.
Anderson said his organization can offer a good deal to the fledgling state marketing board. The Bayou-based seafood group already has plowed about $10 million into the Alabama Wild Shrimp campaign.
Voters gave the state’s shrimpers the power to tax themselves when they approved Amendment 4 in November of 2004. Shrimpers created a voluntary program in which they donated 1.25 cents per pound of catch. The program raised $10 million in four years, but was discontinued in 2008 due to the recession, he said.
Stacy said the state group’s participation and advice are “more than welcome.”