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Lawmakers considering bills to safeguard seafood industry

by Minden Press-Herald

By Jordyn Wilson | LSU Manship School News Service

BATON ROUGE–Louisiana lawmakers are considering a batch of bills to safeguard the state’s seafood industry from an influx of foreign shrimp and crawfish and to strengthen safety measures for imported products.

Some bills would increase fees and licensing requirements on dealers bringing in foreign seafood and expand safety testing. Others would require more accurate labeling about where any type of seafood originates and ban the use of foreign seafood in school lunch programs.  

The action comes as imports now make up nearly 90% of America’s seafood supply and Louisiana crawfish farmers face a disastrous season due to last summer’s drought and a freeze over the winter.

House Bill 748, which would update Louisiana’s fee system for imported seafood, is just a piece of the new seafood legislation. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Jessica Domangue, R-Houma and the daughter of a commercial fisherman, would raise the state’s $100-a-year fee on companies that process and distribute imported seafood to 0.1% of the company’s gross revenue.

“Our seafood industry has seen unprecedented challenges in recent years,” Domangue said. “Our seafood industry, in particular, has been decimated by the influx of imported farm-raised product.”

Domangue’s bill passed unanimously through a House committee and is scheduled to be discussed Tuesday on the floor of the House.

The House already has passed a similar measure, House Bill 676, by Rep. Timothy P. Kerner, R-Lafitte. It would create a new license for importers and charge annual fees ranging from $500 to $100,000 based on the volume of imported seafood. 

The additional money would be used to increase inspection and testing of foreign seafood, which can contain harmful contaminants.

Other bills have been advancing in the Senate. 

Senate Bill No. 166, also spurred by concerns over food safety and possibly fraudulent marketing practices, aims to increase transparency and protect Louisiana’s historic culinary heritage.

It would outlaw misleading descriptions of seafood as “Louisiana-style” or “New Orleans-style” unless all processing is completed locally or within the Gulf region. 

The bill’s author, Patrick Connick, R-Marrero, said labels selling foreign shrimp as if it were from Louisiana are “potentially misleading. The law that we are trying to pass is to make the country-of-origin name bigger.” 

His bill also would add to the requirements on restaurants to notify customers when they serve imported seafood. It would require the Louisiana Department of Health to set up a way for consumers to file complaints.

Other bills moving forward include Senate Bill 40, by Sen. Robert Allain, R-Franklin, which would expand the work of the Seafood Safety Task Force at the Health Department. 

Senate Bill 62, by Sen. Mike Fesi, R-Houma, would increase testing and labeling requirements on seafood processors and require the Health Department to impose fines for violations.

And on Wednesday, the House Education Committee voted 10-0 to advance House Bill 49, by Rep. Marcus Bryant, D-New Iberia. It would ban imported seafood in lunches served at public schools and private schools receiving state funds.

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