The Gulf Coast states are working together to increase demand for their seafood through a group of innovative marketing, sustainability and traceability programs.
After being battered by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, followed by the BP oil spill in 2010, the Gulf Coast seafood industry was hurting. The Gulf Coast states took advantage of the funds made available by Congress to launch marketing, sustainability and traceability technology that are successfully increasing consumer interest and confidence in buying Gulf Coast Seafood.
Gulf Coast experts shared their approach at a panel at the 2014 Seafood Expo North America in Boston on Sunday, March 16, 2014. The Gulf Seafood Marketing Coalition is showcasing Gulf of Mexico seafood in order to expand the market for their products. They created EatGulfSeafood to attract both consumers and seafood buyers. The website provides a wealth of useful information about the region’s seafood, including recipes, a seafood locater, and information about every species available in each of the states.
“If you’re enjoying Gulf Coast seafood, you’re enjoying Gulf Coast culture,” said panelist Joanne McNeely Zaritsky, of the Gulf and South Atlantic Fisheries Foundation. To showcase Gulf Coast living, the website also includes videos, photos, monthly newsletters, and food blogs.
In addition to the website, the coalition created a variety of tools for stores to help them market the seafood, including counter cards, seasonality charts, and a resource training guide. They also created a promotional program for supermarket chains. After sampling and educational events at the Hy-Vee grocery chain in Iowa, sales of Gulf shrimp sales increased 63%. The Coalition has had similar success at other supermarkets.
Gulf Coast initiatives are not just about marketing. “We don’t just want to market the wonderful flavor of our seafood,” said panelist Julianna Mullen, from the Audubon Nature Institute. “We want to talk about the good management practices in our fisheries.”
The Audubon Nature Institute is helping the fisheries work with all stakeholders to create plans to continue to improve their sustainable practices. They developed a program called Gulf United for Lasting Fisheries (G.U.L.F.) designed to help improve the conservation and management of the region’s fisheries. The program includes education, a fishery improvement program, and third-party certification.
The Audubon Nature Institute is helping the fisheries work with all stakeholders to create plans to continue to improve their sustainable practices. In addition, G.U.L.F. is assisting the fisheries that want to obtain third-party certification to help them document and confirm that their fisheries are responsibly managed.
A third Gulf Coast initiative, Gulf FINFO, is designed to increase transparency for the Gulf Coast seafood industry by proving accessible information about Gulf Coast fisheries and helping to build traceability. The initiative is launching a new website, GulfFishInfo.org, at Seafood Expo North America. The website makes it easy for consumers and seafood buyers to get regional and state-by-state information on harvesting, monitoring, and management practices.
“You need traceability before you can have sustainability,” stated the panel moderator, Alex Miller, of the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission, which created the website and is one of the groups collaborating on the initiative. FINFO also showcases the Guflf seafood trace program, launched two years ago. Over 1,000 participants, including boats and processors, are participating. The program uses digital monitoring to ensure that products are traceable from the dock throughout the supply chain. Still in the pilot stage, retailers are reporting that providing traceability information is leading to an increase in seafood sold.
While there appears to be some overlap in these initiatives, they’re clearly succeeding at increasing interest and confidence in buying Gulf Coast seafood. Instead of speaking about sustainability in vague, general terms, the Gulf Coast seafood industry is providing consumers and seafood buyers with scientific yet accessible information about each species and industry. In doing so, they’re creating a model that other states and regions will hopefully adopt themselves.