A Project for Students and Citizens

Bayou La Batre: Week Five

In Bayou La Batre on June 25, 2013 at 12:11 pm

Laney Pic 2Organization works to support Alabama’s ‘liquid asset’

By Laney C. Payne

“This is our daily bread.

This is the simple idea that Bayou La Batre’s not so simple Organized Seafood Association lives by. Founded in 2002, the Organized Seafood Association is wellLaney pic 4 known throughout Bayou La Batre and the surrounding region. From pushing legislation to helping shrimpers, fishermen and crabbers obtain licenses, Organized Seafood works around the clock.

In their office next to the Subway in the quiet Greer’s grocery strip, Organized Seafood helps their neighbors help themselves.  “If it affects a fisherman, we will find a way to help,” said Rosa Zirlott, a founder and one of two OSA employees. As the daughter of an Everglade beauty and a North Carolina traveling shrimper, Zirlott knows firsthand what it takes to make it in the industry. “You just gotta jump in the water and figure out what it’s about,” said Zirlott. “If I can talk to them about my personal experiences, they’ll believe me. That’s how I can help them.”

Zirlott has done just that for the past 11 years from the small office decked out with symbols of Gulf Seafood pride. Established as a nonprofit to distribute Katrina relief money from Marine Resources, OSA distributed more than $9 million to people who rightfully deserved it based on strict criteria for assistance.  “We wanted it to go to the right people. We only used half a percent to keep the lights on here. The rest all went to the people who deserved it,” said Zirlott. Even after the impact of Katrina and the 2010 oil spill began to ease and the disaster relief crews packed up and left the bayou, OSA continues to take a stand for the people of the community. By promoting local seafood, the association is fighting the constant monster that is hitting every seafood industry worker in the area: imports.

Nathan Laney pic 2At a price so cheap the locals find it hard to compete with, companies are turning to foreign countries for farm-raised seafood packed with chemicals and disease. According to Zirlott, The United States tests only one percent of on all imported seafood. If contaminated, the shrimp or other seafood are dumped and forgotten, still leaving the other 99 percent to land on our plates. According to the staff, OSA is working to prevent the continued assault of imported shrimp by marketing their cause and working to change legislation to protect the livelihood of local seafood industry workers.  “You have the right to know where your food came from. Eat Gulf seafood,” said Debbie Jones, the grant writer for OSA.

From their overflowing desks, Zirlott and Jones have worked to promote laws requiring every food establishment in Alabama to advise their customers about theNathan Laney pic 1 country of origin of the seafood they serve. By displaying postcards that read, “You didn’t come this far to eat imported shrimp,” OSA is getting their cause heard. Legislation is just the beginning of what Organized Seafood hopes to change. More importantly, they hope to preserve a way of life that may soon be forgotten. “I’m afraid of losing a generation of hard workers and losing the knowledge of how to do this. My husband’s daddy was a net maker, just like his daddy. You have to know the patterns and skills.  We are losing all that,” said Zirlott.

Nthan laney pic 4By helping each individual who walks through their doors, Organized Seafood is working to ensure the survival of a trade and its people.  Competing against foreign markets and declining prices, the association explores creative and innovative ways to show the people of the bayou that there is still money to be made and pride to be had in what they do. “Ask for Gulf seafood, and you’ll get it. It helps keep a livelihood open. People sometimes don’t have a clue. We have to create a niche market for this. Everyone loves a taste of the Gulf,” said Zirlott.

The association has found many outlets to advertise their efforts, such as the Shrimp Festival in Gulf Shores, Alabama. According to Zirlott, when OSA first participated in the festival, nearly 100 percent of all concessions sold imported shrimp. After passing out free samples of “the taste of the Gulf,” 70 percent of all stands now sell Alabama wild shrimp. Furthermore, the association has partnerships with companies such as Zattaran’s to market and sell their product. The newly launched “Alabama Gulf Seafood” campaign provides billboards, flyers, and stickers with slogans such as “Support the waters that support Alabama” and “A different kind of liquid asset.” Serving as a representative for the hard working people of bayou, the Organized Seafood Association is the definition of collaboration and perseverance as they work to protect a seafood tradition that is vital in Bayou La Batre.

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