State officials have released a preview of a program that could lead to the identification, branding and marketing of Louisiana-certified wild-caught shrimp. As proposed, it's a four-phase, voluntary program that would certify the authenticity of Louisiana shrimp through the efforts of harvesters and processors. Ewell Smith, executive director of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board, says major seafood buyers nationwide have become increasingly interested in certified quality-control products. In this case, "quality control" means that every stop a wild-caught shrimp makes from being pulled out the water to being placed on the consumer's plate would be accounted for in detail. While several state agencies have been working on such a program for years, the recently created Louisiana Shrimp Task Force has helped fast-track the effort. Supporters hope the program will not only help broaden the discussion of Louisiana shrimp, but also create new marketing strategies for fishermen and processors. Alaska, among other states, has a similar seafood program on the books and it took nearly two decades to perfect and implement. The proposed program would operate on two levels: one for fishermen and another for processors. On the harvester side, the program would certify that fishermen are implementing food-safety practices that will be developed by university and industry scientists. For processors, the program might call for random inspections beginning on the docks, new sanitary regulations, stricter labeling rules and physical specifications for the product's appearance. Implementing the program won't be cheap, and members of the Louisiana Shrimp Task Force admit that government aid may be needed.
"The carrot, we hope, will be the ability to market a premium, branded wild-caught shrimp," says Dr. Carrie Castille, deputy assistant commissioner of the Louisiana Department of Agriculture. "Consumers will eventually see the logo or the brand or the trademark and they'll know it's a safe, quality product." Restaurants would be allowed to use the proposed trademark on their menus as well, but they would have to voluntarily allow on-site inspections to take part in the program. — Jeremy Alford