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A federal grant will enable University of Louisiana at Lafayette researchers to better understand how seafood makes its way from the Gulf’s waters to tables worldwide. 

Dr. Geoffrey Stewart secured a $249,678 U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Business Development Grant that will fund a study of the seafood supply chain in Vermilion, St. Mary and Iberia parishes.

Stewart is an associate professor of marketing in UL Lafayette’s B.I. Moody III College of Business Administration.

“Everyone knows where to buy fresh shrimp, but the region does not fully understand the reach of this industry,” and how it’s affected by other factors – such as dwindling population levels, increasing unemployment rates, and natural and man-made disasters, he said.

The USDA-funded research is a collaboration between the Moody College of Business and the Meridian Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization. According to its website, the Meridian Institute “helps people solve complex and controversial problems, make informed decisions, and implement solutions that improve lives, the economy and the environment.”

Deborah Atwood is leading the institute’s contributions to the project. Co-principal investigators are Dr. Ramesh Kolluru, UL Lafayette’s vice president for Research, Innovation, and Economic Development, and Roy Holleman, former director of the Enterprise Center of Louisiana and the University's current economic and community development liaison. 

Atwood said the research will be used to develop a comprehensive economic development plan that will identify the industry’s strengths and areas where it can grow.

“This is not going to be a stale study that sits on a shelf. This is a plan the seafood industry and coastal parishes will be able to build upon,” Atwood told Gulf Seafood News, an industry publication.  

Stewart said the study’s first objective “is to map the entire seafood supply chain” in Vermilion, St. Mary and Iberia parishes “so we have a visual understanding of all the moving parts – everything hitting the water, coming inland, processing and leaving those parishes.”

The research will include interviews and community meetings with fishermen and processers, and with companies that store and transport seafood to inland stores and restaurants.

The voices of people on the frontlines will detail how the seafood industry has weathered challenges it’s faced and how the industry can capitalize on opportunities for growth.

Louisiana shares these issues with communities across the Gulf Coast, so the study’s results will have applications elsewhere. But the research is about more than economics, Stewart said. It’s also about preservation.

“This industry plays a vital role in our culture and way of life, especially in these waterfront communities.”


Photo caption: Dr. Geoffrey Stewart on a recent tour of Gulf waters that touch several south Louisiana parishes. He's an associate professor of marketing and the Moody Company/BORSF Eminent Scholar Endowed Chair in Regional Business Development at UL Lafayette. (Photo courtesy of Gulf Seafood News)