Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Revisiting the “Sea Grant Extension Exchange Program” with an Exchange between New Hampshire & Louisiana Sea Grant

One of the greatest things about being part of Sea Grant is that we are instantaneously a part of a nation-wide network where colleagues from all of the 33 Sea Grant programs can function as resources for one another.  But here is the reality- it is rare that we DO use each other as resources, mostly because we are focused on our work in our own states and regions and it is counter-intuitive to reach out to colleagues from across the country. It is also rare that we get to interact with each other in person on a regular basis- oh we have Sea Grant Week and Regional Sea Grant meetings and some of us have been lucky enough to go through Sea Grant Academy but how often do we really connect after these events are over?  The Sea Grant network in theory is a valuable resource IF we can tap into it and if we KNOW what is happening in each of our programs. 

With this in mind and as an example of what can happen when we get together at events such as Sea Grant Academy, a few of us newly minted Academy 2013 grads realized that we were doing similar programming and that it might be worthwhile to visit each other to learn more. Thus, over dinners and drinks Twyla Herrington, Alan Matherne  (both from Louisiana Sea Grant) and myself, thought the idea of a “Sea Grant Exchange” where Sea Grant agents from other programs would host each other for several days and have them see and participate in what they do in their daily Sea Grant jobs and in so doing see if any programming can be adaptable and implemented in their home programs.

Of course such ideas also need some financial backing which got us thinking about what it would entail to get it up and running which is still a big question and a hurdle.  However, as we continued to talk about other things such as direct marketing of seafood and our work with the fishing industry an idea came to mind that could make the first “exchange” plausible. Alan and others from Louisiana Sea Grant were putting together the second annual Louisiana Fisheries Summit in the Spring of 2014 and Twyla was organizing a Crab Workshop series around the same time. Both of these events were similar to things that I was thinking about in some form or other for New Hampshire (instead of crabs, lobsters) and I really thought it would be beneficial- even if I paid for it myself- to attend one or both of these events.  When I returned back to work, I spoke to my supervisor and other colleagues about this “exchange” and all said it would be a great opportunity but I would need to figure out a way to make it happen because there was no money for that sort of thing.

In November, Alan sent me a draft agenda of the Summit and suggested that perhaps I could contribute to the agenda by giving a talk or a poster to not only justify the trip but also to be an active participant.  We decided that some of my work dove-tailed nicely with the Direct Marketing of Seafood portions of the agenda and Alan invited me to give a presentation on “Professional Fisheries and Direct Marketing of Seafood- the East Coast Experience” and then invited Pete Granger from Washington Sea Grant to give a similar talk from the West Coast.

Now the only thing to do was to solve the question of how to fund this trip.  I would like to say that Sea Grant and UNH threw money at me and paid my way, but that is not what happened. Rather, I was lucky enough to have a little reserve fund that my supervisor said I could tap into if I thought this “exchange” was worth it and Twyla and I figured out places to stay that were free (read- family and friends and other colleagues). 

The entrance to Stella Plantation, Plaquemines Parish, LA
Fast forward to March 10th, 2014 and I am on a plane to New Orleans.  Twyla Herrington went above and beyond (in my opinion) as my LA SG guide and kept true to the spirit of the exchange.  Thanks to Twyla and her husband’s truck, I spent 5 amazing and truly valuable days as an honorary LA SG marine agent!  Twyla took me on all her daily duties, which included listening to some of her phone calls and requests from her stakeholders and fishermen. For example, I did not know that as Sea Grant agents, we could be called upon to find out information on bait types and prices, or that speaking to insurance providers was on our list of services. In addition, I got to tour her office at the LA AgCenter building in Belle Chasse, LA. Twyla covers Plaquemines and St. Bernard Parishes, two of the parishes that were greatly affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and that have a large shrimping and crawfish fishing industry. I tagged along with Twyla and met some of her “clients” including an owner of an incredibly beautiful Plantation, Stella Plantation, which she works with because of her ecotourism programming. She took me to the shrimp docks and onto a boat that was being refitted into a charter boat and I got to hear plans about a lake being built on a farm so that crawfishing (as a venture into ecotourism) could occur. I also learned that her “people” really trust her and depend on her. They have her cell phone number (which pinged constantly with emails or texts) and they really do use her as the great resource that she is!

Crayfish pots 
Shrimp boat docks, Plaquemines Parish, LA
The Peruga- a shrimp boat being retro-fitted for ecotourism usage.

G. Bradt speaking at the Louisiana Fisheries Summit
 On Wednesday, March 12, we left New Orleans and drove a few hours southwest to Houma, LA to the convention center where the Fisheries Summit was being held for the next two days. What struck me the most about this event was the number of LA fishermen that attended, over 300 over the course of the two days and the number of Sea Grant agents as well as representative of LA Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF).  Granted, I am comparing this to my small NH fisheries, but I was still impressed at the participation, especially from fishermen. The Summit itself was a wealth of information, a lot, obviously, was centered around LA specific  issues such as the state of the crab and shrimp industries and much was centered on direct marketing of Louisiana seafood. But there were also sessions about seafood safety and handling, vessel safety, gear and refrigeration just to name a few. In addition, there was a small trade show featuring the US Coast Guard, Banks, LDWF and direct marketing efforts such as Louisiana Seafood. 

The Summit for me was a great learning experience especially with regard to direct marketing and ecotourism  but more importantly it was a chance to talk  and meet other members of the Gulf seafood industry and fellow Sea Grant colleagues such as Julie Anderson whom I have worked with on marine debris issues, Pete Granger (WA SG), John Bell, John Supan (aka “Sup”), Julie Falgout, Thu Bui, Carol Franze, Lauren Land and Thomas Hymel. It was great hearing about their work and how they have tackled similar issues in Louisiana as my colleagues and I are encountering here in New Hampshire. It was really exciting to know that our network, really truly is a rich resource for all of us. I can now say, that I am comfortable picking up the telephone and calling these fellow Sea Grant agents if I have questions or just referring them to other people, because I now have an idea of what they can offer both in knowledge and experience.  

Fellow Sea Granters, Lauren Land and Twyla Herrington
After the Summit, Twyla and I headed south to Grand Isle to visit John Supan who is the director of the Sea Grant Oyster Hatchery and got a full tour of the operation down there –although it was shut down for the season and hadn’t started back up.  It was a beautiful location and talking with “Sup” made me start thinking about another version of the “exchange” which would involve spending a week on Grand Isle learning the tools of the oyster culture trade from one of the best in the field and would be “Professional Development Camp” for Sea Grant!

Entrance to Grand Isle, LA
John Supan, Director of the LASG Oyster Hatchery and Twyla Herrington

Oyster grow out cages
The LASG Oyster Hatchery residence, Grand Isle, LA.

All in all, I came back to New Hampshire with a head full of ideas and resources and potential additions to our program, new friends, contacts and potential collaborators in the future. This was exactly what we hoped this exchange would do and I am looking forward to hosting LA Sea Grant as the next leg of the “exchange”. It is our hope that this will garner some well-deserved publicity and backing from Sea Grant and that it becomes a formalized opportunity for other Sea Grant agents to take advantage of.

You can read a story about this exchange program. 

- Dr. Gabby Bradt
Fisheries Extension Specialist, NH Sea Grant/UNH Cooperative Extension

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