by Ed Lallo/Gulf Seafood News Editor
The Gulf Seafood Institute (GSI), a leading voice for the Gulf of Mexico and the seafood it produces, has a new Interim Executive Director. Ewell Smith, former executive director of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board, will immediately assume the interim leadership role.
GSI’s represents all aspects of the industry. Its mission is to protect the Gulf’s unique culture and environment while elevating the Gulf seafood brand with consumers, customers and policy leaders through advocacy, education and science. Its board represents every Gulf state as well as every aspect of the industry – both commercial and recreational – and is positioned to be a leading voice on key issues including sustainability, seafood safety, disaster mitigation and recovery, and data collection.
“I am excited to once again be involved with Gulf fisheries as the Interim Executive Director of the Gulf Seafood Institute, and to help them grow their mission,” said Smith, who led Louisiana’s state seafood board for more than 12-years. “I am humbled to have this opportunity, given the depth and level of leadership experience of the board comprised of fishery leaders from each of the five Gulf States.”
Instrumental in Seafood Marketing
Smith was instrumental in establishing marketing events that gave Louisiana seafood worldwide exposure. Smith worked closely with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to establish the Great American Seafood Cook Off, seen on PBS and Food Network. In addition, the Louisiana Seafood Cook Off, the Oyster Eating Challenge, the Louisiana Seafood Festival and signature “Po-boy Builds” at the Super Bowl and White House garnered billions of media impressions during his tenure.
Smith said, “It is particularly exciting for me that the Louisiana Restaurant and Florida Restaurant Associations have become strategic partners in the advancement of Gulf seafood. Their combined voices give our seafood leaders and communities the ability to leverage collective efforts representing two of the Gulf’s most co-dependent and important sectors that translate into tens of thousands of jobs, and millions of dollars in income for state and local governments.”
“Ewell’s team took a local grass roots program and grew it to a national level,” said GSI board member Stan Harris, CEO of the Louisiana Restaurant Association (LRA). “He pulled the LRA into the fold by putting the spotlight on our chefs and restaurateurs. It became a win-win for the state’s fishing communities and chefs; as national media embraced the message of ‘cooking with Louisiana seafood’.”
At the Louisiana Seafood Board, Smith led market development, promotional activities and educational outreach for all of Louisiana’s seafood products, leading them into international prominence.
Energy, Drive and Excitement
“Ewell brings to the Gulf Seafood Institute the energy, drive, and excitement needed to leverage long standing relationships, and establishing closer working relationships with other Gulf organizations,” said board chairman Harlon Pearce, owner of Harlon’s LA Fish in New Orleans. “Even in this temporary position, I know he will have a huge impact on shaping the future of our organization.”
During his tenure, the Seafood Board became the ‘gold standard’ among peer organizations for its creativity in seeking new partnerships and avenues for touting the many benefits of Gulf seafood.
“Ewell has demonstrated consistent leadership and an unwavering commitment to the Gulf Coast fisheries and the folks who depend on this amazing resource for their livelihood,” said Jimmy Galle, owner of Sausalito, CA based Gulffish, a leading West Coast sustainable seafood distributor.
Smith was responsible for bringing professionalism and a “let’s rebuild and get it done mantra” to the board, especially during times of crisis. Following Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav and Ike, Smith led an industry group to Washington that secured more than $150 million for the state’s fishing communities. In addition he worked closely with major oil companies in devising programs mutually benefiting each industry during the recovery.
“Having worked closely with Ewell over four years following Katrina and Rita, I have deep respect for the passion and creativity he brings in support of the Gulf seafood industry and brand. He is a great choice to help GSI advance its Mission,” said Fred Palmer, a communication’s manager at Shell Oil Companies Houston’s headquarters.
During the darkest hours of Gulf seafood history, the Board became a shining light of hope. Its crisis preparedness made it the “go to source” for national and global media during the Gulf oil spill.
“Even though we are nearly four years out from spill, there is still a lot of work to be done, especially since Congress will soon release Restore Act money,” explained Smith. “All parties involved in the Gulf of Mexico need to have an active voice on Capitol Hill. The efforts we started a decade ago are as critical today as then. Should another event happen -and let’s hope it never does – we need to be fully prepared to run toward the challenges, as we have numerous times in the past.”
Challenges Facing the Gulf
Some of the important challenges currently facing the Gulf of Mexico and its fishing communities Smith sees include; share allocation; H2B visa worker legislation, coastal restoration, electronic monitoring on both recreational and commercial vessels, seafood certification and promotion; as well as the loss of important fishing habitat.
“One of the most important programs, but least publicized, is the loss of important fishing areas when platforms are removed from the Gulf,” said Smith, who sees a priority on establishing closer working relationships with oil companies involved in the Gulf. “It is important that GSI gets firmly behind the “Rigs to Reef” program that recycles retired natural gas and oil structures as artificial reefs. This program creates fish habitat depended upon by both commercial and recreational fishermen.”
Over his career, from the East to West coasts, Smith has established permanent relationships with seafood and conservation leaders that have a stake in keeping the Gulf sustainable.
“I welcome the announcement that Ewell Smith has been selected to serve as Interim Executive Director for the Gulf Seafood Institute,” said Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu. ” Under his leadership, the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board helped Gulf fisheries successfully navigate both natural and manmade disasters. He brings with him a wealth of experience and a unique perspective that will inform and enhance the ongoing efforts to preserve and promote the Gulf brand. I look forward to continuing our work together with GSI and our other partners along the Gulf Coast.”
According to Smith, he looks forward to renewing close-working relationships with Capitol Hill and state legislators.
“It is my intention to renew partnerships with such organizations as Gulf and South Atlantic Fisheries, NOAA and companies working in the oil and gas industry, as well as the media and chefs from around the country,” said Smith. “Although I may only be here for a short while, my mission is to leave this organization as the “go to” voice for fishery issues in the Gulf of Mexico.”