Wendell Verret, director of Twin Parish Port

Wendell Verret is director of the Twin Parish Port District of Iberia and Vermilion parishes. The port is home to Delcambre Direct Seafood, part of the Louisiana Direct Seafood program, a collaborative effort between the port, LSU AgCenter and Louisiana Sea Grant that connects Louisiana fishermen to the market. 

My career plans have always been to become an attorney. I had a successful career having worked for two federal judges and several law firms in the area. I was the port attorney for many years when I became the port director in 2008. I still maintain an association with Barry and Company law firm, but most of my current legal practice pertains to handling the port's legal issues and questions. A running joke I like to use is that I was once a powerful attorney; now I sell shrimp in Delcambre. Don't tell my mother.

We conceived the Delcambre Direct Seafood program because many shrimpers were telling us they could not stay in business, earning barely enough to pay for fuel and ice. Prices had become severely depressed through the introduction of imported shrimp, and port ordinances at the time did not allow sales across the docks, as the port wanted to protect the shrimp houses. We wanted to help maintain shrimping as a part of our culture and the history of Delcambre. We knew shrimpers were selling directly to family and friends to earn extra money.

To accommodate the shrimpers in Delcambre, we repealed the ordinances and created the Delcambre Direct Seafood program and website in 2010, the summer of the BP oil spill. Thirty local shrimp boats signed up with us, but we started with only 10 who remained in town as the others left to help with the spill. That first summer after the launch of the website (before social media), we immediately saw folks with their ice chests lined up on the docks to buy from the boats. We then had a parking problem, which we were glad to have. The program has grown from there. As soon as shrimp is available and catches start to come in, customers line up to get their shrimp. Our primary goal has always been to make sure the boats sell out. Since inception, that has not been a problem.

In 2017, we started Louisiana Direct Seafood Shop to sell wild-caught seafood, often packaged and frozen directly by the fishermen who caught it, across the country. We have just introduced a wild-caught Louisiana Seafood Gift Box just in time for the holiday season. We also created a brand called Vermilion Bay Sweet and have just started selling on Amazon as well as directly from our website, from freezer cases at Gonsoulin Land and Cattle store in Loreauville and local markets, including the Delcambre Seafood and Farmers Market. It’s a way of extending the sales of local fishermen’s catch and continuing to strengthen our fishing community.

Customers come equally from Louisiana and across the country. We’ve found no one out there can compete with the quality and price-point of Louisiana Direct Seafood Shop. So our primary goal is to get the word out. We find the love of great seafood is universal and are happy to see that Louisiana Direct Seafood Shop is catching on.

The main shift I see (since the state mandated restaurants to publicize any imported seafood) is that there’s a lot of interest from those who want to begin processing and distributing local seafood. The port is actively working out plans and funding issues to create new facilities to accommodate the local demand for Louisiana seafood.

Adequate transportation is lacking in the seafood industry as we see changes in distribution channels. We need scalable means of getting product from one part of the state to the other, particular to northern areas of the state. As Louisiana seafood becomes more desirable in other states, we see a need for transportation and distribution points in those states. The cost of shipping continues to rise, so more efficient and cost-effective distribution will be needed.

The industry continues to see a decline due to lower landings. We are not seeing many young people who seek out commercial fishing as a way of life. Most coming in are older individuals and families seeking a change of lifestyle, perhaps leaving the erratic nature of the energy industry. A fishing boat is a significant investment not mention the business start-up cost. When coupled with the many risks associated with fishing, it's no wonder the decline continues. We would like to see vessels utilize tourism by way of charters, tours and excursions to grow and diversify their business.

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Email Adam Daigle at adaigle@theadvocate.com.