State officials request help
State officials have requested $457 million from British Petroleum to fund a 20-year, multi-agency initiative to help seafood testing efforts and to kick off an information campaign to help reassert the Louisiana brand.
“Louisiana-harvested seafood is a staple in restaurants in some of our nation’s largest markets,” officials wrote in a letter dated yesterday to BP CEO Tony Hayward. “The future of this industry is in peril.”
As BP has tried to contain the spill, officials said their respective agencies, which include the state Wildlife and Fisheries, Department of Environmental Quality and the Department of Health and Hospitals, have undergone numerous precautionary measures over the course of the past six weeks, to ensure safety and quality from the seafood that is being harvested from Louisiana waterways.
These efforts have included water quality and specimen testing by biologists and precautionary closing of fishing areas and oyster beds – even before any visible impact by the oil.
“Unfortunately, despite these efforts, public confidence in our industry is eroding,” officials wrote. “This is evidenced by a recent USA Today poll, where 13 percent of those polled said they would not eat gulf seafood. This poll was taken before the images of coastal impact were seen on television, and we can only assume the damage is even worse today.”
Officials noted it was imperative to act swiftly to reassure the public of the safety and quality of the state’s seafood.
“We must be able to convincingly make the case that our seafood product is safe and of high quality,” officials wrote. “The images of oil and dispersants will be difficult to overcome without science to back up our claims, and Louisiana is committed to taking these steps as quickly as possible.”
The state proposed a long-term proposal that would implement a science-based seafood safety testing program with transparent metrics of safety and quality; begin a certification program for quality and processing of certified Louisiana seafood and launch a successful short-term and sustained long-term consumer information campaign designed to reassert the Louisiana brand.
DEQ Secretary Peggy Hatch, Wildlife and Fisheries Secretary Robert Barham, DHH Secretary Alan Levine, Department of Economic Development Secretary Steven Moret and Agricluture and Forestry Commissioner Mike Strain all signed off on the letter.
Commercial and recreational fishing industries represent $4 billion annually in economic impact to the state. Approximately 30 percent of the entire domestic seafood in the U.S. and 70 percent of all Gulf seafood are harvested from the coastal waters of Louisiana.
The proposal will likely be music to the ears of Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board Executive Director Ewell Smith.
Smith said it has been increasingly difficult to defend the Louisiana brand, particularly to markets outside the state, during an interview several days prior to state officials drafting their proposal to BP.
“What many people don’t realize is that, as of today, approximately 70 percent of our state’s coastline is still open to commercial and recreational fishermen and is still bringing in safe seafood,” Smith said.
But despite this, the state’s brand is still taking a serious hit, according to Smith.
“It gets very confusing once you start moving into the interior U.S.,” Smith said. “They’re not getting the whole story. They think we’re out of business entirely. But this just isn’t the case.”
Smith said he fully supports the unprecedented testing that’s been performed by DHH, DEQ and Wildlife and Fisheries biologists in recent weeks.
“We also support the precautionary closures,” Smith said. “Our top priority is the protection of the consumers.”