Created by the state legislature in 1984, the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board represents different sectors of Louisiana's seafood industry, from harvesters to restaurateurs. Ewell Smith has been executive director since 2011. Last year, the group received $30 million from BP as part of the energy company's oil disaster response, and Smith says new marketing campaigns supported by that funding will begin in February and will target both industry buyers and consumers around the country.
G icon: Your group markets nationally, but we've seen a lot of seafood promotion around New Orleans lately. What's the strategy here?
Smith: When you have back-to-back bowl games and throw in a Saints playoff game, that's just a grand slam for marketing. There's no better way to promote your product than having people try your product — so we've been sending out food trucks to give people free seafood dishes. We fed 2,000 people in one day, and we're targeting social media for the crowd that's in town now. We'll be doing this in Indianapolis next month for the Super Bowl too, but really this is just a dress rehearsal for next year when New Orleans hosts the Super Bowl. We'll be doing much bigger things then.
G: What is the supply and demand status for Louisiana seafood today?
S: Oyster supplies have been tight, mostly because of all the fresh water we got with the high river in the spring. We had a slow white shrimp season last year, but there are too many variables right now to say just why. We'll be watching the brown shrimp season starting in May very closely. This coming summer will be critical for us, but national demand is coming back much stronger. We're in a lot better shape than a year ago.
G: A crisis often leads to change. Has dealing with the oil disaster sparked any innovations for Louisiana's seafood industry?
S: Absolutely, and actually the lessons of (Hurricane) Katrina prepared us well. We're working on a certification program now for Louisiana seafood. The first level will certify that something is a Louisiana product, and a second level will certify premium product, similar to certified Angus beef. That will help us brand our product to chefs and to the consumer. That first level should be ready in the summer, the second level maybe six months after that.