HOUSTON, Texas — Seventeen thoughtful minds, ten newly birthed committees, and several dozen strategic initiatives comprised the net return of Gulf Seafood Institute’s strategic planning session for 2017.
Held last week at the offices of Houston-based corporate member Sysco Corporation, the two-day strategic meeting brought together industry leaders from all five Gulf States to clarify the Institute’s work as the leading advocate for the Gulf Seafood community.
“This was an extremely energetic and collaborative meeting,” said Harlon Pearce, GSI chairman and owner of Harlon’s LA Fish & Seafood, a fish-processing and distribution company in Kenner, Louisiana.
“We’re confident about the direction we’ve mapped for addressing issues that will affect the Gulf seafood community in 2017,” Pearce said.
The Gulf Seafood Institute works to protect the region’s unique culture and environment while elevating the Gulf seafood brand with consumers, customers and policy leaders through advocacy, education and science. The organization is comprised of members from every aspect of the industry – harvesters, processors, wholesalers, retailers, restaurateurs and the charter‐for‐hire community. Each sector was represented at the strategic discussion.
Day one focused on GSI’s three commitment areas (advocacy, education and science) and how to advance the sustainability of the Gulf’s culture, businesses and seafood resources. Day two explored the organization’s own sustainability as members work to ensure the organization’s ambitious agenda allows time to proactively pursue opportunities to raise funds, grow membership, and develop the next wave of initiatives, leadership and organizational development.
STRATEGIC FOCUS #1: ADVOCACY
Presently, GSI’s core strengths include expert lobbying for federal legislation that affects Gulf watermen and other seafood industry stakeholders. In fact, the organization was conceived in Washington, D.C., after several founding members spent a day lobbying for seafood issues on Capitol Hill.
“We continue to see the most opportunity and, therefore, the most work, in the area of federal advocacy,” said Margaret Henderson, GSI’s executive director and lead strategist for lobbying and advocacy initiatives.
“GSI has built a strong track record of representing Gulf seafood stakeholders with a strong, unified voice to advance policies and relationships that benefit our industry,” Henderson said.
Attendees of the strategic summit discussed the federal policy issues they believe will be most important in 2017. These issues include:
- Industry Sustainability and addressing outside influences such as increased regulatory requirements and labor shortages;
- Data Collection and advocating for Gulf-wide electronic data programs that can qualify the integrity of the Gulf’s fisheries;
- Federal Fisheries Management and preserving access to Gulf seafood for ALL Americans;
- Increased Public Testimony to convey important issues on multiple levels, including the Gulf Council, state fishery managers and legislators, and Federal agencies and legislators.
STRATEGIC FOCUS #2: EDUCATION
Founded in 2013 as the “voice of the Gulf”, GSI invests considerable resources toward informing Gulf seafood stakeholders about the issues that impact them, their business and their supply of Gulf seafood.
Two primary focus areas for 2017 will be maintaining the Gulf Seafood Newsroom as a leading authority of Gulf-wide industry news, and broadening GSI’s efforts on social media to inform stakeholders of key issues and developments.
“Our goal is to be the “go to” organization for information about Gulf seafood and the Gulf seafood industry,” said Jim Gossen, founding GSI board member, and chairman of the newly created communications committee. “As the “voice of the Gulf” it’s imperative that we continue to excel at informing our constituents about key developments that affect them.”
In all, four key initiatives were established to advance GSI’s communications program:
- Charged a newly established a communications committee with developing a year-long, integrated plan for media, social media, events, collateral and other communications tools, including the Gulf Seafood Newsroom;
- Established an Aquaculture/mariculture Committee, to guide GSI’s direction as a neutral convener of stakeholders in the broadening conversation about the future of food;
- Committed to the development of a robust communications strategy for driving membership;
- Began exploring general education efforts, including curriculum for educating the Gulf Seafood community on professional development, best practices and more.
STRATEGIC FOCUS #3: SCIENCE
Since launching in late 2015, GSI’s electronic logbook program for federal charter boats in the Gulf has captured thousands of voluntary reports, which are informing resource managers on better policy decisions that are based on science.
Attendees of GSI’s strategic summit doubled down on the organization’s dedication to data based initiatives and agreed to continue collaborating with industry, academia, State and Federal agencies and fisheries managers to advance the best available science.
“Our intent was to develop our priorities and explore potential ideas that GSI can promote or participate in to move the science forward,” said Nancy Thompson, chair of GSI’s newly created science committee, and current director of the Florida-based Keys Marine Lab, a division of the Florida Institute of Oceanography. “For example, can we help improve the timing of the science, and how can we work toward the goal of providing near real-time assessments in the Gulf.”
Currently, historical data can be four to five years old by the time assessments are finalized, and many are managed by research firms in other regions, like the Pacific north west, which can add unwelcomed expense and delay.
To that end, GSI members agreed to continue leadership on a comprehensive science agendas for 2017 which includes:
- Enumerating a broader range of science-based initiatives GSI might pursue;
- Increase participation in the Gulf-wide Electronic Log Book program for charter boats;
- Take initial steps in establishing a Gulf-based fishery science center that can collaborate with state and federal agencies as well as regional universities, to provide rapid stock assessments with real-time data within a year.
Board members who attended the strategic session pledged both short-term and long-term commitments, with most priority areas to receive some type of action plans as quickly as 30 days. The organization will also confirm an annual budget after preliminary recommendations from each committee chair.
As she hustled back to Houston’s Hobby Airport following completion of the second busy day of GSI planning, Henderson remarked, “We’ve got an ambitious schedule for 2017 and a lot of work lies ahead. The good news is that GSI just re-enlisted the best leaders from across the Gulf to make it happen. I’m excited for what this year will bring.”