Working On Water Symposium Encourages Fishermen To Supplement Income With EcoTourism

Oct 21, 2014

An airboat in the wetlands.
Credit USGS South Florida Information Access

A coalition of foundations, non-profits government departments, and higher education institutions are looking to help Coastal Louisianans invest in some new industries. The Working on the Water symposium took place Tuesday, October 21 in St. Bernard Parish. 

It would have been a beautiful day to be out on the water. But around 45 local fisherman left their boats docked, and drove to the town of Violet instead.

The morning session of Working on the Water pitched nature tourism as a sustainable second income. Louisiana Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner Mike Strain reminded the crowd that what they know best has currency with tourists.

“Remember, 99 percent of the people don’t farm or fish. But they want to know about it. They want to get back to the roots.”

Birding, adventure tourism, even butterflies came up as niches to exploit when it comes to out-of-towners.

Ed Shedlock is with the Entrepreneurship Center at Nunez Community College. Shedlock helped organize Working on the Water, which targets fishermen affected by the BP oil spill. He says it is really important to approach them in a comfortable way. “We can’t use words like entrepreneurship, we can’t use ecotourism, we need to say, make more money, start a small business, and that they understand. We’re gonna just talk to them in their terms.”

He says he was expecting as few as four fisherman to come to the workshop, but he got 10 times that, including Tony Goutierrez, who lost seafood businesses because of Katrina and the BP oil spill. Goutierrez isn’t convinced tourism is the best fit. “St. Bernard, we lost all our trees, we don’t have a whole lot to offer anymore. And the canals are trashed so bad, I wouldn’t want to bring a tourist down.”

Ed Shedlock says he plans to follow up with attendees, and try to get them to enroll in basic business classes at Nunez. He says he’s hoping to make Working on the Water an annual event.

Support for WWNO's Coastal Desk comes from the Walton Family Foundation, the Greater New Orleans Foundation, and the Kabacoff Family Foundation.