Marketing seen as key for Louisiana shrimpers

April 4, 2011 at 12:44 am

*published Apr. 4, 2011
BY VANESSA C. DEGGINS

Taking the helm of the Louisiana Shrimp Task Force, Mark Abraham said the board is facing a number of issues, with the most serious being marketing.

“We first need to decide if we are going to market as Louisiana shrimp or Gulf shrimp,’’ said Abraham, a managing partner of Gulf Island Shrimp and Seafood, a shrimp-processing company.

The task force would present suggestions to the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board.

“I know they keep in touch with their counterparts in other states, but also private entrepreneurs, like the American Shrimp Processors Association are discussing it,” Abraham said.

Along with its regular budget, the board is also receiving about $30 million from BP over an 18-month period that will go towards seafood marketing.

Similar amounts will be given to states impacted by the April 20, 2010, oil spill.

Abraham said he believes the oil spill will be good for Gulf shrimpers.

“We now have the most tested shrimp in the world. And everything that’s been done shows that our shrimp and seafood are safe to eat,” Abraham said.

Abraham said he expects the task force to take a united stand.

“I spoke with Clint Guidry (president of the La. Shrimp Association and task force member) and he said, ‘Look, the main goal is to market so we sell more and you sell more,’ so I was glad he had that attitude,” Abraham said.

Abraham said he will suggest the multi-state approach because he’s seen it work before.

“As a member of the Wild American Shrimp board, we were able to get federal dollars to market shrimp for eight states,” Abraham said. “Our focus was to differentiate ourselves from the imported shrimp.

“We wanted them to know that wild-caught shrimp tasted better and didn’t have antibiotics that certain countries use in their hatcheries.’’

The organization was also instrumental in getting country-of-origin labels put on shrimp, Abraham said.

“I think most people assume, since they live in Louisiana, they must be eating Louisiana shrimp,” said Kevin Savoie, an area agent with he LSU AgCenter. “If you go to any large supermarket, you have to check the label.”

Savoie said at restaurants, patrons should also ask because larger chains may not use locally caught seafood.

“About 90 percent of what we consume in the U.S. is imported,” Savoie said.

Americans consume about 1.3 billion pounds of shrimp each year, with about 200 million pounds coming from Gulf and south Atlantic waters, according to the American Shrimp Processors Association.

American shrimpers have been able to regain more market share thanks to anti-dumping tariffs set in 2006 by the International Trade Commission.

The tariffs were placed on Brazil, China, India, Thailand and Vietnam after shrimpers and shrimp processors sued the countries when imports increased about 30 percent between 2001 and 2003.

The tariffs reduced import shrimp market share from 59 percent to 46 percent and the ITC recently renewed the tariffs for another five years.

Two issues remain with the tariffs. During the first five years, shrimpers and shrimp processors got a percentage of the tariffs, which they used for marketing.

“This renewal of the tariff is just that,” Abraham said. “The shrimpers and processor associations spent millions on the lawsuit, but now all of the money from the tariffs go to the federal government.”

Abraham said Sens. Mary Landrieu and David Vitter have teamed with senators in seven other states to lobby for a percentage of the money to go back to the states for marketing.

During the February hearings before the ITC renewal, the Times-Picayune newspaper reported that Landrieu took Customs and Border Protection to task for not properly collecting tariffs.

A 2010 customs report said there were about $14 million in uncollected tariffs on shrimp and crawfish. Landrieu said an audit by her office of 2008 tariffs showed they missed almost $42 million that year.

Attorneys for the American Shrimp Processing Association also said international seafood companies often changed their names or changed the nation of origin to a country not covered by the tariff.

Landrieu asked Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to respond in writing on how her department would handle the problems.

Abraham said the first task force meeting will be April 21, and other issues will include developing a sustainability program for shrimping.

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