Economic Development in Freshwater Louisiana Fisheries
Inland fisheries have played a critical role in Louisiana’s rural economy and working waterfront culture. In partnership with the University of Louisiana Lafayette, Meridian conducted research to catalyze market development in this industry.
Louisiana’s generations-old freshwater fishing industry exemplifies the state’s bayou culture. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, rural Louisianans with no access to farmland caught freshwater fish to feed their families and earn a living. Key freshwater species— including catfish, buffalo, and gaspergou—became nationally-recognized products as transportation infrastructure expanded in the 1920’s and ‘30s, bringing Louisiana seafood to bustling seafood markets in eastern and western coastal cities. During this time, the industry grew from individual family fishermen to include many successful fishing businesses.
In the mid-1960s, a rise in imported seafood caused the popularity and price of wild-caught, freshwater Louisiana seafood to decline precipitously. Meanwhile, national trends toward urbanization accelerated rural outmigration in central Louisiana and a transition away from careers in freshwater fishing. Those who remained in the freshwater fishing industry faced oil shocks and skyrocketing inflation, increasing the costs of operating freshwater seafood businesses.
However, with business acumen for today’s dynamic market, determination, and a willingness to innovate, numerous central Louisiana seafood businesses have overcome these challenges to successfully harvest, process, and market their products. Recognizing the Louisiana freshwater seafood industry’s immense potential, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Office of Rural Development and the University of Louisiana Lafayette (ULL) sought Meridian’s support to study challenges and market development opportunities in the region.
Building on our earlier study of Louisiana’s coastal fisheries, conducted with partners at ULL, we co-designed a strategy to engage the entire Louisiana seafood supply chain in the research and strategy process. We visited with fishermen, processors, distributors, economic developers, public officials, and academics in six different inland parishes to learn about their experiences, observations, and difficulties working in Louisiana fisheries, as well as their hopes for the industry’s future. We translated this input into actionable recommendations for enhancing state-level economic development support to freshwater fisheries through workforce development, recruitment, and training, equipment and infrastructure investments, business and marketing workshops, and regulatory measures.
We captured these findings in the “Louisiana Freshwater Seafood Economic Development Report” released in Spring 2022 and hosted a reception in Baton Rouge, Louisiana to share recommendations with key seafood business owners, economic developers, and public officials. This research will continue to inform the development of Louisiana seafood industry for decades to come.