U.S. Sen. David Vitter says his office is working on the early version of a bill that would strengthen national shrimp inspection laws, ban tainted imports and create stiffer penalties for improper labeling. Vitter, R-Metairie, announced his plans last week to the Louisiana Shrimp Task Force, which was created earlier this year by Gov. Bobby Jindal to help the industry overcome challenges such as low dockside prices and foreign competition.
Up until now, the task force has been focused on pushing state-level legislation, which includes making the task force permanent, increasing the shrimp excise tax for marketing efforts and creating a new program that would certify Louisiana shrimp. Such ideas could be up for debate when the state Legislature convenes its regular session next spring.
But federal matters are an entirely different topic altogether and representatives from the office of U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-New Orleans, told task force members this week that they’re prepared to work hand-in-hand with Vitter’s team. “She has made it her top priority,” state Rep. Joe Harrison, R-Napoleonville, who represents portions of Terrebonne Parish, told task force members, based on meetings he has had recently with Landrieu and her staffers.
Vitter phoned in his comments personally to the task force and outlined the actions that could be taken in coming weeks. “We stand ready with the rest of the delegation to consider all of your ideas about federal options,” Vitter says. The first item up to bat will be a standalone bill, Vitter says, that would:
● Increase inspections on all foreign-shipped seafood and hold importers to the same standards as domestic suppliersVitter says the legislation is only in the “conceptual stages” and he isn’t sure how successful it might on its own, but his underlying goal is to have the sections added to a larger food safety bill the Senate is expected to take up next year. “We want to beef it up in regards to shrimp issues,” Vitter says.
● Ban countries with histories of supplying tainted shrimp from selling their goods in the U.S.
● Strengthen penalties for mislabeling — that is, those fishing operations that might mark their product as being from Louisiana when it’s really from a foreign country