Get ready to have an up-close and personal relationship with your red snapper supper. In response to last year's massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and growing concerns about ocean sustainability, the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders' Alliance is launching Gulf Wild, a branding effort that will attach a unique tag to the gill of every fish its members catch. Chefs and consumers can then enter the code in a "Find my fish" feature on its Web site, and not only see precisely where the fish was harvested, but even a photo of the fisherman who caught it.
The brand, and the promotional efforts that will support it in the coming months, are important for two reasons, David Krebs, president of the group, tells Marketing Daily. "First, we want consumers to know this fish has been specifically tested for safety, beyond what the government does. But it's also a way to let chefs and consumers know that these fish are now being caught in an environmentally sustainable way."
Red snapper from the region is currently on the "avoid" list of such environmental watchdogs as the Monterey Bay Aquarium, he says, even though the program to bring the fish's numbers back up ended in 2009. Red snapper has seen an increase of 40% in its allowable catch, the Alliance says, as have red grouper, and more than a dozen other grouper and tile fish species.
"We knew we had to have a system in place so that chefs and consumers can say, 'Yes, this fish was caught in a sustainable way.' We've got a very accountable system," he says.
A spokesperson for the Alliance says marketing will be heavy on events, including programs at such seafood-famous restaurants as Lulu's in Alabama and Dewey Destin in Destin, Fla. Plans also call for local partnerships, celebrity chef tie-ins, and social media.
Fishermen throughout the Gulf region continue to be affected by consumer perceptions of fish safety, as a result of the April 20, 2010 BP disaster, which spewed more than 5 million gallons of oil into the water. A survey from Technomic and Seafood Business, a trade magazine, found that while 72% of people did not change their seafood consumption habits as a result of the spill (possibly because most consumers don't know where their fish comes from), 23% deliberately cut back on all seafood purchases. And of those, 78% said they made a point of specifically avoiding Gulf seafood. A similar study from the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board found that 48.3% of consumers say they are eating less seafood overall.
"We'd like to change that," Krebs said. "It would make me super happy if chefs across America were featuring red snapper, confident that it is a sustainable and healthy fish."