New seafood bill leaves business owners with a fishy taste in their mouths


Cody Downey

Trays of crabs sit on the counter of Deanie’s Seafood Market. Deanie’s was not affected by the new seafood bill due to selling local shrimp and crawfish. Photo credit: Cody Downey

Cody Downey

A new seafood bill is causing local restaurants to tell customers just how local their seafood is.

Signed by Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards on June 19, House Bill 335 requires restaurants that sell imported crawfish and shrimp to disclose where the seafood is coming from. According to the Louisiana Restaurant Association, businesses will have to disclose this information either on the restaurant’s menu or main entrance. Failure to comply with the new bill will cause any restaurant to receive a violation of the state’s sanitary code.

Having taken effect on Sept. 1, many business owners will not have to comply with this bill due to only selling domestic seafood. One such restaurant is Drago’s Seafood Restaurant.

According to Drago’s owner Tommy Cvitanovich, all of the shrimp and crawfish served there is local. However, Cvitanovich admitted that knowing exactly how local the seafood is can be a struggle and leads to many questions.

“Were they harvested in Louisiana waters, international waters or the coast of Mississippi? Were they Mississippi shrimp brought from a Louisiana dock or Louisiana shrimp brought from a Mississippi dock?” he said. “I can tell you that 100% of the shrimp we use are from the Gulf of Mexico, from this region, between Alabama and Mississippi and Louisiana and Texas.”

Deanie’s Seafood Markert general manager Darren Chifici echoed these comments.

“I guess there is an importance in that they want things labeled. So, if you are going to sell shrimp, they are going to want to know where it’s coming from,” he said. “Although, all the shrimp that comes to Louisiana you don’t know where it comes from. It’s caught somewhere in the Gulf.”

With buying imported shrimp, Cvitanovich said there are some benefits but, for him, those are outweighed by what the little that is known about these shrimp.

“You just don’t know that much about where they are coming from,” he said. “Whereas, if they are Louisiana product, we know who’s fishing them. We know who’s bringing them in. We know what dock they are coming from. We know what factory they are going to. We know who’s selling them.”

Despite his business not being affected by the new bill, Cvitanovich still has issues with the local government telling business owners what to do.

“It should be up to me to want to promote and advertise the fact that I am selling Louisiana products,” he said. “And if I’m not, if I’m misrepresenting it, then come after me.”

Agreeing with Cvitanovich, Chifici believes the bill is irrelevant.

“It’s addressing a problem that doesn’t exist,” Chifici said. “I think it’s more legislatives doing things that they shouldn’t be doing and need to concentrate on something more important.”

Like Drago’s, Deanie’s doesn’t have to worry about the bill affecting them due to being certified as selling authentic Louisiana wild seafood.

However, Chifici said that much of the shrimp served within Louisiana is not from here.

“Louisiana’s shrimp market is less than 2% of the world market and a lot of times there is a shortage of shrimp,” he said. “Without the other shrimp around the world, there wouldn’t be enough to go around.”

With buying imported seafood, Cvitanovich said many other restaurants may go through with it for one very important reason: money.

“Is it tempting to buy a Spanish crawfish or an Asian crawfish? Of course it is, because of the price,” he said.

Chifici also said it is hard to want to buy domestic when many fish have been illegal to fish commercially. According to Chifici, fishes, such as red fish and speckled trout, are now only allowed for sports fishing.

“So, if you don’t fish, which I don’t fish, what am I supposed to do? Eat Mrs. Paul’s Fish Sticks because I can’t buy commercially,” he said.

For Cvitanovich, he personally believes that there is a financial benefit to buying and selling domestic seafood.

“To me, I think it’s value added if I tell you I’m selling Louisiana shrimp,” he said. “I think that’s much better and I can probably get more money as opposed to saying a shrimp sandwich.”

Despite this, Cvitanovich still said that the government should have no involvement in how seafood restaurants do their business.

“This is my restaurant. I need to run it my way,” he said. “As long as I’m not misleading or lying to the public, I should be able to put on our menu the way we want to describe it.”