Across south Louisiana, those involved in the seafood industry have struggled and fought through worsening seafood seasons.

From the fishermen on the boats to the people on the docks to the families and businesses who process and sell shrimp, crabs and seafood, all have continued to fight to keep their livelihoods and ways of life alive in Cajun country and across the Gulf region.

The owners at Granger Seafood in Maurice can attest. The family-owned business started out 31 years ago selling seafood out of ice chests have grown to include a small storage and processing facility. 

Some years are much tougher than others, owner Cheryl Granger admitted, and the current trend may mean more difficult seasons ahead. 

"The industry of shrimping is not what it used to be a long time ago," she said. "Some years are OK and some aren't. There just seems to be less seafood out there."

The Grangers and others in the seafood industry in south Louisiana are hopeful following a federal grant awarded to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette's B.I. Moody III College of Business Administration.

The $249,678 U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Business Development grant will allow the university to study the seafood supply chain in Vermilion, St. Mary and Iberia parishes.

UL-Lafayette is teaming up with the Meridian Institute, of Washington, D.C., and Thomas Hymel with Louisiana Sea Grant.

The Grangers are among those who are working with UL-Lafayette in this study. With Chinese competition, proposed Gulf fish farms, and last year's inshore shrimping season being one of the worst seasons many veteran fishermen had ever seen, the work will help.

"When you go to the stores, a lot of people focus on price and that price may be half what we can sell local — fresh caught seafood — but what customers don't realize is the quality's not there," said Brittany Granger, Cheryl's daughter. "We focus on local seafood and great quality. If you go see what's going on in these local packing rooms, it's amazing what these people do and how fresh the seafood really is. It's hard for us to compete with imports and their prices, but you don't know what's going on with their seafood."

The one-year study will first map the entire seafood supply chain so researchers and officials will have a visual understanding of the moving parts from the Gulf of Mexico — to the docks, to the processing facilities and into the markets locally and across the country. 

It will take researchers to open waters and also into communities where they will hold meetings with fishermen, processors, storage companies and markets and restaurants.

"The focus here is to identify the businesses that are active in this three-parish area and active in the seafood industry from everything that goes on the boat to get it out there, to what comes back in, processing plants, icehouses, whatever," said Geoffrey Stewart, Moody-endowed chair of regional business development at UL-Lafayette.

"We want to know all the moving parts associated with the seafood industry and the markets. We're trying to engage the practitioners that make the seafood industry work," he said.

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

"We would like to thank the University of (Louisiana at) Lafayette and Dr. Stewart for this," said Acy Cooper, president of the Louisiana Shrimp Association. "Anything that helps our shrimp harvesters and the industry as a whole is greatly appreciated. Our dock prices are at an all-time low. So, we need to find long-term solutions to protect our way of life, our culture and our heritage."

The research will also be applicable in Texas, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida as many of the issues affecting Louisiana fishing communities are also impacting them as well.

Stewart said they are coming into this study without any preconceived notions on how to help fix the industry's woes. One idea could be the return of gas subsidies, which fishermen have said wasn't a major boon but still greatly helped them even though it usually didn't even cover an entire fill-up for a fishing boat.

"We want to identify where there is space for them to grow, where there are things holding them back and in the end, we're looking to develop a strategy for local, state and federal agencies where they can put programming around the needs of the industry," Stewart said. "Our objective here is to come in and give economic developers in the state something to build off of. There are needs that need to be addressed. This is all about their voice. This is about preserving not just our local economies but our culture and our way of life."

Said Cheryl Granger: "We're so thankful they're doing this. Any help we can get, even if it's just research to find some way to help us, would be amazing."

Acadiana business today: USDA grant to help UL researches identify issues for local seafood industry; Ramen bar to open Tuesday

Jared Doise is owner of Legends LLC, which has nine locations in Lafayette. Doise recently purchased the downtown space he had been leasing at…

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