by Ed Lallo/Gulf Seafood News Editor
The Louisiana Restaurant Association (LRA), the industry’s organization committed to advancing and protecting Louisiana’s restaurant and foodservice industry, has awarded the Gulf Seafood Institute (GSI) a $50,000 grant to advocate for one of the most important menu items from New Orleans to Shreveport – Gulf seafood.
“Over the past couple of years, we have spent more time advocating for equitable fishing policies and improved data collection, things important for our industry to maintain it source of supply,” said Stan Harris, CEO of the Association while on a trip to Capitol Hill with GSI members. “It became clear to us there was not a central point that we could go to work with the harvesters, to work with the charter-for-hire industry, as well as the chefs and distributors. GSI gives us the opportunity to be able to do that because it convened all these different voices to advocate in a positive manner.”
According to Harris, the goals of GSI align with needs of LRA members, especially those that are in the segment that serve a lot of fresh Gulf seafood to customers coming from around the world. The story of Louisiana and Gulf seafood is all about sustainability and locality.
The LRA was established in 1946 to advocate on behalf of the state’s foodservice and hospitality industry among elected officials and regulatory agencies within Louisiana and through its partnership with the National Restaurant Association, address the same issues with federal agencies.
It is governed by a volunteer Board of Directors and operates the LRA Self Insurer’s Fund for Workers’ Compensation and the LRA Education Foundation. The nine state chapters are composed of restaurants, caterers, hotels, suppliers and related businesses.
The organization has been a nationwide leader in advocacy, whether in Washington, D.C., at the state Capitol or in a city or parish council chamber, the LRA’s advocacy team is on top of issues impacting the state’s hospitality industry.
“Though it may be intimidating and overwhelming for restaurant owners to take action on their own, it’s important to remember that the LRA is advocating on behalf of the restaurant industry each and every day,” said Harris.
The LRA team works with members on specific issues to position them and the industry for positive outcomes. LRA members have testified before state legislative committees, local council and parish meetings to deliver their story first hand.
While walking through the marble halls of Congress, Harris outlined his expectations for building a stronger partnership with GSI. “What we want to do is continue to come to Washington and to talk about fishing policy and advocate with both the committee staffs and congressional member’s staffs, as well as the individual Senators and Representatives who are the policymakers impacting our industry. That is very important to us.”
Harris feels that GSI is a valuable asset in addressing such Gulf seafood issues as H-2B guest worker visas and funding for Gulf reef fish data collection. “All of that, and more, is what we are asking of GSI as part of this funding grant to be able to push forward and support these activities,” he said.
With more than $8.7 billion in 2016 statewide restaurant sales and providing more than 204,000 jobs, the Louisiana hospitality industry is a powerful economic driver. The organization’s CEO touts past collaborations with GSI, and has encouraged other Gulf restaurant associations to become actively involved.
Sustainable management of Gulf red snapper is a big factor for Louisiana’s restaurant community. “We have been very fortunate to have our colleagues from the other five Gulf states, Texas, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida, sign on to letters, send staff to Gulf Council meetings and generally really ramp up their game when it comes to this important and vital resource,” said Harris. “When we start talking to members, we find the intersecting points where all these issues come together. We found that GSI is a great place to focus in order to achieve our common goals.”
To see these broad interests come together and work collaboratively is a real positive for GSI. I think there should be a ‘tip of the hat’ for the leadership for pulling this all together.
Last October, GSI’s Executive Director Margaret Henderson ramped up her work with the LRA and their DC-based counterparts at the National Restaurant Association (NRA) to prepare Louisiana Ralph Brennen Restaurant Group Chef Haley Bittermann for her testimony before the House Natural Resources Committee on red snapper management.
“GSI brings together the entire Gulf seafood supply chain, and that includes the consumers who depend on it. Stan’s leadership at the LRA and as a Board member at GSI has really helped hammer home the connection between Gulf seafood and the end users, including restaurants and their customers,” said Henderson. “Stan’s leadership among the other Gulf state restaurant associations and with the National Restaurant Association has really elevated the importance of Gulf seafood on the national level. This additional level of financial support from LRA simply solidifies their dedication to the amazing seafood products GSI’s members are bringing to the table.”
“In Louisiana we are fond of saying, ‘It’s not just how we prepare food, it’s what we prepare that makes Louisiana different and desirable’,” he said.
“Some of the older, longer serving chefs we have in Louisiana consider the Gulf of Mexico their own. Whether it be Paul Pruhdomme, or John Folse at Restaurant R’evolution, or Chef Frank Brigtsen at Brigtsen’s in New Orleans; these chefs have worked under the radar for such a long time and know the Gulf is one of the most amazing resources we have for a wide variety of different seafood. Whether it’s shrimp, whether it’s oysters, whether it’s any type of reef fish, any type of rod and reel caught fish; all these different things are what brings great chefs together with those who love to eat great seafood.”
“The role of GSI has always been to connect the dots between the fisherman in the Gulf the end users, be it restaurant or consumer,” said Harlon Pearce, President of the GSI and owner of Harlon’s LA Fish. “ The LRA has seen the benefit for its members of having a strong voice in fishery issues in the Gulf. As our working relationship has grown, the financial grant they have given our organization will allow us to help us support our common interests in Gulf fishery legislation.”
“We will continue to have some successes, there is no question that we will also have some disappointments, but that is the nature of how advocacy works,” he said. “The relationship we have established with the Executive Director Margaret Henderson, as well as the members of the Board who are extremely active and involved, in advocating for policies in all different aspects of Gulf seafood, takes a lot of thought, hard work and relationship building over time.”