La. seafood industry to Capitol Hill: Our seafood is safe

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by Maya Rodriguez / Eyewitness News

wwltv.com

Posted on February 9, 2011 at 7:26 PM

Updated Wednesday, Feb 9 at 11:42 PM

WASHINGTON – A group of people who make a living off of Louisiana seafood are on Capitol Hill this week, pushing for policies to help ensure the survival of their livelihoods.

It is an annual trip that is taking on new significance this year, as some of the state’s fisheries struggle to recover from the BP oil disaster. It’s called “The Walk on the Hill,” a week full of meetings for the Louisiana seafood delegation.
They represent several aspects of the industry, but the big focus on Wednesday was on the one which could be in the most trouble: oysters.
Hundreds of miles away from the waterways that bring life to their livelihoods, a group of more than 20 people, many of them oyster fishermen, traveled the hallways of Capitol Hill, to meet with members of Congress and representatives from a number of federal agencies including the Food and Drug Administration.
Their goal is to get the message out that Gulf seafood is safe – by using science, backed up by the FDA.
"We're dealing with people who are concerned with whether or not to eat seafood from the Gulf Coast,” said Ewell Smith, executive director of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board.
 “We’re asking them to continue to testing, which they are, and they plan on doing that, along with NOAA and EPA. Where we need their help is to continue to get the word out to the nation that those test results they’re getting back – all the test results are coming back fine, and show the seafood is safe,” said Smith.
"The general public wants to hear from them, wants to know why areas were closed and how they tested to open them. We’ve been telling the regulatory agencies they need to step out again and tell people that it’s safe, that they’re still testing and everything is fine,” added Harlon Pearce, owner of Harlon’s LA Fish and Seafood company, and chairman of the seafood promotion board.
Nearly 10 months ago, the BP oil spill changed their lives, bringing words like hydrocarbons and dispersants into their vocabulary, and these meetings.
"It's an ongoing effort that we’re asking all of these government agencies to work together cooperatively,” said John Tesvich of the Louisiana Oyster Task Force.
The so-called Walk on the Hill is taking on new urgency this year, not just because of the oil spill, but also because of the number of new freshmen members of Congress, who are unfamiliar with the needs and issues surrounding the fisheries and coast.
“As we visit with them, there are a number of new members of congress, we’re educating them about our old issues as well as this new issue,” said Mike Voisin of Motivatit Seafoods.
And there is plenty of money at stake.  Seafood is a $3 billion industry in Louisiana; one that’s taken a hit since the spill. That is especially true for oysters, which take longer to mature and therefore longer to recover.
One issue of concern remains: balancing the restoration of damaged oyster beds with the restoration of the coast.
"There's also a lot of dollars that can come down to rebuild those areas. They can rebuild and rehab the oyster grounds… and the fisheries as well,” said Voisin.
With that in mind, the group is doing more than just talking about policy.   They all want to show what the policy is all about. So Wednesday night, they are pulling out all the stops, for a massive reception, bringing in celebrity chefs and lots of oysters. Watch for that story,  tonight at 10 p.m. on Eyewitness News.

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