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By Xerxes Wilson / Staff Writer

State fisheries officials have teamed with the LSU Sea Grant College Program to educate Louisiana commercial fisheries into a new era of higher profitability.

The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and program organizers recently announced the Fisheries Forward program, a new effort to foster harvesting and handling practices that help make the state's catch the highest quality possible on the market.

'A lot of our business when it comes to processing is based on best-handing practices. A lot of our business is that high-end and high-quality market,' said David Chauvin, who owns three Terrebonne seafood businesses with his wife, Kim. 'Right now, 90 percent of the education is on the dock facility. Guys come in, one has great shrimp, the other has black spots, head falling off and tails broken, and there is a difference in price.'

Thomas Hymel, LSU AgCenter and Sea Grant agent involved with the program's creation, said the first aim is to promote practices that hinder deviation from the high-quality catch making it to the dock.

'The quality can range greatly from one vessel to another. We catch a lot of shrimp in this state, and we can enhance that product quality across the fishery,' Hymel said. 'We have this resource that can be much more valuable at the fishery level, the processor level and at all points.'

Hymel said the state's fishery is at a point where it can grow to meet demand created by worldwide population growth and the popularity of wild-caught game. He said Alaska's fishery can serve as a model.

'The Alaska seafood industry, these products are going all over the world,' Hymel said. 'They are taking a product that went into cans years ago with mediocre quality. It is being handled differently. It is being packed value added and it is making the fishery more valuable at all levels. Years ago it wasn't like that. They have gone through this evolution as people around the world are looking for this wild-caught product.'

The program will serve as a repository for information on the best business and handling practices for various facets of the industry from the harvester to the processor to the marketer, said Rene LeBreton, spokesman for the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

The program will include educational videos, online information and hands-on dock days.

Four, 30- to 45-minute training videos are in production to address how to be a commercial fisherman, seafood dealer/processor, seafood business finance and management worker, and crab fisherman.

'It starts at the boat. There is a lot of room to grow in how we handle our product,' Hymel said. 'When it hits the deck, it is at its highest quality. There are many things we can do to make sure we retain that.'

Hymel said the program will cover basics across the various fisheries and grow to include information about the latest practices. It will also cover how to add value when marketing the product.

Introducing higher quality across the fishery will also give local fishermen an advantage over imported shrimp, which drive down the prices for wild-caught product, Chauvin said.

'We are competing against farm-raised shrimp. Those are raised with chemicals and antibiotics. So you have to find people that have a lot of appreciation for that wholesome product. Then you have to exceed the quality of those imported shrimp,' Chauvin said.

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