If that shrimp or crawfish is imported, the menu had better say so. It's now the law for restaurants across the state.

Unanimously approved legislation signed by the governor in June gave the restaurant industry until Sept. 1 to start changing menus to disclose the use of imported shrimp and crawfish next to individual menu items.

Restaurants that don't use menus have to post a sign at least 17 inches high and 18 inches wide with letters no smaller than 1 inch or have the staff explain that the seafood comes from another country.

Restaurants that don't comply will be in violation of the state sanitary code, with enforcement by the Louisiana Department of Health.

Enforcement, though, could take some time. More than 32,000 food establishments are inspected each year across the state, according to the department. Inspectors will be checking and citing any disclosure violations during their normal visits — typically three times a year for most full-service restaurants. The department said it has eight health inspectors in Baton Rouge, seven in Lafayette and 13 in New Orleans.

Several restaurant owners contacted in New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Lafayette say the menu rule won't be an issue at many upscale restaurants where local sourcing already is the norm. At many inexpensive ones, however, prices are supported by cheaper imported shrimp and crawfish.

The owners also said locally owned restaurants are more likely to be supportive of the state's seafood industry.

Creole Cuisine Restaurant Concepts, based in New Orleans, operates 19 restaurants, from upscale properties like historic Broussard’s and the Bombay Club to casual spots like Café Maspero and the Royal House Oyster Bar, all in the French Quarter.

Zeid Ammari, vice president of the company, said the approaching law spurred a fresh look at sourcing. The more casual restaurants in the group had been using a mix of local shrimp and domestic shrimp from suppliers around the country. He said the company looked at the new rules as a chance to double down and proclaim not just domestic but also local sourcing.

That is above and beyond the requirements of the law, which only specifies that menus identify when shrimp and crawfish are from foreign countries. But with menus about to be in the spotlight, the company revamped its own to underscore the change.

“We were serving (local shrimp), but we didn’t say it, so now it’s part of our messaging,” Ammari said. “If using all Gulf shrimp means we have to increase our prices a little bit, now we can point to something that says why.”

He said his company supports the new rules as a way to accentuate one of the things Louisiana does best: seafood.

“From a visitor’s standpoint, they’re coming for food and they want the local seafood; now we can assure them that’s what they’re getting,” Ammari said. “It keeps everybody honest. I like it. And more importantly, it supports the local seafood market. The fisherman too often gets forgotten in this.”

Some in the business are skeptical, however, that the law will have much economic impact for Louisiana fishermen. 

One is New Orleans fisherman Pete Gerica, who sells the shrimp he hauls in at local farmers markets and directly to restaurants. Those clients, he said, are already committed to using local seafood because “they’re trying to get the best they can — product they can be proud of.”

While local shrimp could once fetch much higher prices at the dock, Gerica believes global supply lines have permanently changed the market for seafood.

“The price we get is about supply and demand, and that’s not going to change with this,” he said.

He predicted people accustomed to paying low prices for shrimp will simply look past labels identifying it as foreign. Still, he said, the new requirements could at least “keep people honest about what they’re serving.”

“That shrimp you see out there that’s really cheap, if they say it’s from the Gulf you’re getting fooled,” he said. “If times get lean, and you change your menu for a certain amount of time (to imported shrimp), you should say so.”

If a restaurant violates the new law, that information will be available on the state's website that details restaurant inspection results at Eat Safe Louisiana. Exceptions to the new disclosure law include private clubs, religious or charity sales, seasonal establishments, nursing facilities and schools.

Facing increasing market pressure from lower-priced, imported seafood, Louisiana fishermen and seafood processors had for years sought a source-disclosure measure to differentiate their product. This time, advocates framed the proposal as a health and consumer protection issue, zeroing in on concerns over the production methods of imported seafood.

Framing its legislation, the state considered the issue as a serious risk to public health since imported shrimp may be exposed to more than a dozen antibiotics and toxins from commercial farming operations overseas. More than 90% of the seafood sold in the U.S. is imported, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office. 

Even though Louisiana has a commercial seafood industry, there is a significant volume of imported shrimp coming into the state.

The Louisiana Restaurant Association said the reason there are so many imported products is that the domestic shrimp market is seasonal.

"There's a challenge because in Louisiana, domestic shrimp aren't harvested year-round," Stan Harris, president of the Louisiana Restaurant Association, said recently.

So it can be difficult for restaurants to sell Gulf Coast shrimp all year without developing direct relationships or buying frozen shrimp up front, he said.

Harris also was skeptical that restaurants that use imported shrimp would feel pressure from consumers to sell domestic shrimp in Louisiana because it would mean higher prices.

"I don't believe that this is going to change demand," he said.

Don's Seafood, which has six locations in Lafayette, Covington, Denham Springs, Gonzales, Hammond and Metairie, said it's excited to change its menus to note that the restaurants serve local seafood.

"Don's Seafood has served Louisiana seafood from the same vendor for decades. After all, the Gulf's incredible bounty is in our backyard where we've operated our family-owned business for more than 80 years," said Ray Stonemark, a partner and area manager.

Frank Randol, the owner of Randol’s in Lafayette, said the labeling law will have the biggest impact on national seafood chains. He said many small local restaurants are owned by people who have family members who are shrimpers or crawfishermen. “Almost always, local seafood will trump the import,” he said.

Randol’s got its start in 1971 as a seafood processing house. The restaurant still processes seafood for other Lafayette eateries. “We see both sides of the issue,” he said. “You’re always wanting to get something at the best price point you can, but at the end of the day, the way the world is going today, the consuming public has a right to know what they are eating.”

Kevin Ortego, owner of Louisiana Lagniappe restaurant in Baton Rouge, said the change won’t affect his business because it serves only domestic crawfish, fresh and in season. All the shrimp the restaurant purchases comes from the Gulf, except for the special, seasonal Royal Reds that come from Argentina. Those shrimp are imported because of their quality, just as some other restaurants serve New Zealand mussels or Scottish salmon.

Ortego said the Legislature “missed the boat," though, by not requiring restaurants to also disclose where they get their fish. “Speckled trout, redfish, those are almost exclusively an import,” he said. “If you order fried fish at a restaurant, that’s swai or basa from Vietnam or China.”

In July, Danny Millan opened his new restaurant Azul in New Orleans’ Lakeview neighborhood. Casual, aimed at families and pitched as a “sports restaurant,” its inexpensive menu is loaded with seafood.

But knowing the new rules were coming, Millan wanted to make a statement and so printed those menus with a line right up top reading “Azul proudly serves only Louisiana seafood.”

“With the change, I knew it was something people would be asking about,” he said.

Millan said he talked with his suppliers to make sure he was getting seafood specifically from Louisiana, though he made one exception for a dish using salmon.

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Email Kristen Mosbrucker at kmosbrucker@theadvocate.com.