St. Bernard Parish has created a new position – director of fisheries and water management – and hired former Parish Councilman Tony “Ricky” Melerine to fill the post.
Melerine worked at the seafood processing plant in Violet since 1968, but in October, Bumble Bee Seafood shut the plant down and told employees it was moving to Thailand. While Melerine said the company may have other rationale, he said the shutdown of the plant – which Bumble Bee had owned since 2000 – was because of the perception of Gulf Coast seafood after the oil spill.
Bumble Bee Seafood did not return calls for comment last week.
Parish President Craig Taffaro says the newly created parish position is an offspring of the Gulf oil spill and “how it has created a revamping of the fisheries, both commercially and otherwise.” He also noted the closing of the Bumble Bee plant added to the need for the new post.
Melerine said the oil spill will be a prime focus, and he will help with oil spill claims and training, and that another top priority is reopening the Violet plant.
“Now Plaquemines and St. Bernard has no processing plant, and one of my goals is to find grants to get that back up and running,” he said. “I want to go to other parishes and do some sort of co-op with them.”
“Instead of shipping (our seafood) out of state, it should be processed here.”
He said the plant ideally would process all types of local seafood, not just shrimp.
Melerine also made clear he is adamantly against how imports are driving down prices and pushing domestic seafood out of the market.
“We need tariffs on all imported seafood to help build that industry back to where it should be,” he said.
He plans to rally support along the Gulf Coast for the United Fishermen of Alaska’s efforts to create a national seafood-marketing coalition to bolster awareness and consumption of domestic seafood. That coalition would also lobby in Washington, D.C.
Taffaro noted that Melerine and the parish have started examining potential “fisheries development programs” with Ivan Miestchovich Jr., director of the University of New Orleans’ Institute of Economic Development and Real Estate Research.
Melerine, 60, resigned his at-large eastern division council position in March 2008, less than three months after taking over as Parish Council chairman. At the time, he cited health problems and an upcoming heart surgery that he needed after suffering three small strokes in 2007.
He had been elected with 63 percent of the parish-wide vote to the four-year term after representing District E for the eight previous years. He could not seek re-election to the District E post because of term limits.
Doctors had told him to avoid stress, he said. And after the closing of the Violet plant, with another heart surgery already scheduled, he ran into problems with health care coverage. The new parish post, which pays $55,000, will help resolve that insurance bind, he said.
Taffaro and Melerine overlapped on the Parish Council for four years, from 2004 to 2008.
After Melerine’s resignation, Councilman Wayne Landry, who is now campaigning to run for parish sheriff, won election to Melerine’s vacated seat.
In addition to the new director of fisheries and water management, the parish has received an $100,000 Walton Family Foundation grant to hire a coastal restoration project manager. Taffaro said he plans to hire someone in the next few months and that the expectation is the grant could be renewed annually.
Benjamin Alexander-Bloch can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 504.826.3321.