by Ed Lallo/Newsroom Ink/Gulf Seafood Foundation Board Member
Southern drawls and Cajun accents mixed with New England Down East tones as 20 members of the Gulf seafood community toured Maine’s innovative aquaculture facilities to identify potential opportunities in the Gulf of Mexico.
One voice on the tour was that Billy Nungesser, Lt. Governor of Louisiana, who sees a huge need and opportunity for his state to become an aquaculture leader in the Gulf of Mexico, as well as the world.
Nungesser thinks that environmentally sound and sustainable aquaculture is needed in all the states that ring the Gulf to meet the ever-growing need for fresh fish worldwide. He admits that Gulf States, including his, are behind the curve in investing in the growing worldwide trend toward farm-raised fish.
Nungesser joined other state officials, fisherman, processors and seafood stakeholders in the tour organized by the Gulf Seafood Institute and hosted by the Maine Aquaculture Association. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) provided funding for learning experience.
Aquaculture an Opportunity for Gulf
After two days of visiting successful Maine aquaculture programs for both finfish and shellfish, Nungesser, who traveled with members of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and the state’s Seafood Board, is excited about the possibility of moving aquaculture to the forefront.
“We have representatives from Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, as well as Louisiana on this trip, so there is definitely an interest in aquaculture across the Gulf,” said Nungesser. “Everyone who has access to the Gulf should be exploring aquaculture’s possibilities. This is something that Maine has done very well. They are working in close cooperation with their commercial fisheries to make sure aquaculture does not harm their wild caught fish, but instead that they complement one another.”
The Lt. Governor is no stranger to the water. He started his career working for his family’s offshore catering business in the lowlands of Plaquemines Parish. During two hurricanes and the BP oil spill, as Parish President he was vocal in support of the needs of his fishermen. As Lt. Governor of Louisiana, he oversees the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board, as well as the State’s tourism industry.
“Maine’s Aquaculture Association has gone through extraordinary measures to make sure the livelihoods of commercial fisherman are protected, something that I think we can take a lesson from in the Gulf,” he said. “We need to work with our commercial fisherman to make sure we give them more opportunities and not take something away.”
He feels that nothing will ever replace the demand for wild seafood caught in the waters off Louisiana’s coast. However, as the market for imported seafood continues to grow, Louisiana could become an industry leader in aquaculture production of all kinds of fish products.
NOAA recently announced that it would issue 20 aquaculture permits for the Gulf of Mexico. The Gulf seafood delegation visit to Maine’s successful aquaculture operations and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s ARS Coldwater Aquaculture Research Facility provided new insights.
“I think this is a great opportunity, and we need to be in on the ground floor of this rapidly growing seafood industry,” said the Lt. Governor. “Our state has been a leader in the oil and wild caught seafood industry for many, many years. Louisianans are very persistent and have a history of being one of the most productive workforces in the nation. If we can get the aquaculture industry kicked off I have no doubt that the state can be a leader in many types of finfish, shellfish and other products. We could become a force to be reckoned with in exporting seafood around the world.”
Louisiana’s Gulf Seafood Foundation Board Member Frank Randol, who was also on the trip, agrees with the Lt. Governor. “As we’ve seen in Maine, aquaculture is naturally compatible with both recreational and commercial fisheries. As the world demand for protein continues to grow, aquaculture is a responsible and sustainable way to move fisheries forward in the Gulf of Mexico.”
Repurposing Gulf Oil Infrastructure
As demand for oil demand slows worldwide, Louisiana ports have seen the number of idle boats and equipment grow. The State’s second highest official doesn’t feel it takes much of a visionary to see the possibility of using abandoned oil platforms and decommissioned equipment to not only raise fish in existing rig habitat, but also to hoist the catch onto existing platforms converted into processing and packing houses.
“With the current decline in the oil industry, Gulf aquaculture offers a great opportunity to not only put those platforms back to work, but also the manned crew boats and other supporting labor force,” he explained while traveling from the Maine coast back to the Bangor airport. “It is the same infrastructure that Louisiana already has in place, just a different industry.”
Randol agrees with the Lt. Governor. He is convinced repurposing existing oil related infrastructure would enhance the growth of small businesses, as well as Louisiana communities. “It will also become very important to involve all aspects of the supply chain, from sea to plate, in this new Gulf venture. As we have seen in the past our chef’s are some of Gulf seafood’s greatest advocates,” said Randol.
Back in Louisiana, Nungesser plans to convene organizations like the Gulf Seafood Foundation, Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries, the Gulf Seafood Institute, the Governor’s economic development team and the Louisiana Seafood Promotion Board. “We are going to set down at a round table and see where we are and what we need to go forward,” he said.
Before finding investors, he wants to work with state and local officials to streamline the aquaculture permitting process, as well as work with the state’s universities to determine the best fish species for aquaculture programs in the Gulf.
“We have to make sure all the bells and whistles are checked and in place before proceeding so we can ensure the health and safety our people, as well as the environment from the get-go,” he said.
For Nungesser getting everyone on the same page is a top priority. He feels that recreational fishermen will support Gulf aquaculture because it could resolve a lot of issues they now face. He also sees the need to work closely with the existing commercial industry to eliminate any fears and concerns.
“Whenever you do something new, people are skeptical, so we have to make sure we do a good job on communication and that everyone involved has an equal seat at the table,” said the outspoken Lt. Governor. “We just have to make sure everyone understands Gulf aquaculture is not an industry looking to take anything away from anybody, but instead complements what we already have.”
The Gulf Seafood Foundation is an important voice in promoting Gulf Seafood – its tourism, as well as its historic culture.