An Economic Development Strategy for Louisiana's Coastal Seafood Industry
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An Economic Development Strategy for Louisiana's Coastal Seafood Industry

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    For as long as people have settled along Louisiana’s wetlands, they have fished for shrimp and crab, reeled in catfish, and harvested oysters from coastal reefs. While the state’s seafood industry has this strong legacy, today, it is an undervalued and under-resourced component of rural economies across the coastal parishes. Annually, Louisiana’s seafood industry produces an economic impact of over $2.4 billion , and Louisiana’s fishermen bring in the second largest volume of seafood by state, second only to Alaska. Despite the importance of this industry to the state economy, economic development initiatives often overlook seafood businesses. This is the case even as they struggle to survive devastating hurricanes (including Hurricane Laura in August 2020), adapt to supply chain disruptions and reduced demand for seafood caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, compete against increasing volumes of cheap foreign seafood imports, and face an uncertain future along Louisiana’s eroding coastline.  In order to highlight this important industry and catalyze economic development efforts to sustain it, we embarked on a research effort, supported by USDA’s Office of Rural Development and the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board. We engaged seafood businesses, learned about their challenges firsthand, and crafted an economic development strategy for the industry, grounded in a collaborative research approach. In this report, we characterize the coastal region of Louisiana and the seafood industry; provide an overview of the seafood supply chain; describe the industry’s challenges and needs; and outline a set of eight goals and 24 strategies to support the industry’s long-term success. The economic development strategies are tailored to those who can make a difference. The issues and solutions proposed in this report can be utilized by government agencies and legislators to support the seafood industry and coastal adaptation, operators pursuing innovative business development, and economic developers designing initiatives that target critical supply chain opportunities with cascading benefits throughout the industry. Over the two years of this research effort, the team interviewed fishermen, processors, distributors, retailers, restaurant owners, chefs, economic developers, nonprofits, local, regional, state, and federal government officials, and industry leaders along Louisiana’s coastal parishes. Informed by their experiences and perspectives, we mapped the structure and character of the industry as well as its strengths, weaknesses, and economic development needs. This report is intended to provide independent insights and recommendations that can underpin future regional and state economic development actions to support and strengthen this critical element of Louisiana’s culture and economy.
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