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May 13, 2010 7:06 PM by Melissa Canone

Seafood Industry: LA Seafood Safe And Available

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - With oil still gushing into the Gulf of
Mexico, leaders of the state's seafood industry met Thursday to
discuss ways to get out the message that Louisiana seafood is safe
to eat and available, if not as abundant as before an April 20
offshore rig explosion.
The Louisiana Seafood Promotion Board adopted a draft budget for
the use of $2 million granted to the agency by BP. And members made
clear they will be asking for more from the oil giant, for the
board to promote the quality and safety of Louisiana seafood, and
for fishermen, dealers and processors whose futures become
increasingly murky with every day that the oil continues to foul
the Gulf.
"We'll need significantly more funds to educate nationally,"
said Harlon Pearce, a seafood dealer and chairman of the
state-created board, which is comprised of seafood processors and
dealers, fishermen and restaurateurs.
Pearce outlined plans that included contracting with a New York
public relations agency to get the message out.
Kevin Voisin of Motivatit Seafood in Houma said the board needs
to improve its use of Internet social media and passed on a
suggestion of his customers: providing talking points for waiters
and waitresses to pass on to customers wondering about Louisiana
seafood.
Voisin said the message is getting out to Louisiana consumers
but some of his customers outside of the state are fearful.
"In Texas, California I've got a lot of customers saying they
don't want Gulf seafood and that scares me," he said.
In an abundance of caution, prime Louisiana oyster grounds and
fishing areas have been closed by the state, even though they have
not been contaminated by the oil. Board members unanimously backed
the closings at Thursday's meeting, saying it's part of the effort
to assure the rest of the world that Louisiana seafood is safe.
But the closures have hurt many.
Availability of Louisiana oysters is about 40 percent of what it
was, Pearce said. It's 40 percent, at most, for crabs, he added.
Finfish are available at about 60 to 70 percent, in part because of
closed state and federal waters and because many fishermen are
preparing for a shrimp season set to begin Monday.
But the potential shrimp harvest is in question because of an
unusually cold winter and because of recent diversions of
freshwater into coastal areas, done by the state in hopes of
staving off the encroachment of oil.
Even for those seafood customers who get the message about
safety, availability can be a problem. Gary Bauer, a board member
and crab meat dealer from Slidell, said all of his sources for
processed crab meat are within the closed areas. He's been having
workers pick meat from crawfish - freshwater crustaceans unaffected
by the spill and currently in season.
But he had to turn away a major customer who wanted crab meat,
he said. "I canceled one of the three biggest orders I had," he
said.

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