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Company wants to be `Tyson chicken` of seafood

Global Seafood Technologies taking advantage of changes

BILOXI — Global Seafood Technologies Inc. (GSFT), formerly International Custom Pack, wants to be to the seafood industry what Tyson Foods is to poultry.

“When we originally took our company public, we did it with a vision of the future and the changing dynamics of the seafood industry,” says Clay Gutierrez, vice president of GSFT. “A lot of seafood operators are older generation packers using traditional methods of packaging and relying on seasonably available supplies. Many of these operations are being closed down instead of being taken over by the owners’ children. We envision a large-scale consolidation in the seafood industry at some time, and we want to put ourselves in the position of being able to take advantage of that when it occurs.”

The name of the company was changed at the advice of a promotional firm hired to create a better public image for the company. Custom Pack is now a wholly-owned subsidiary of GSFT, which is a publicly traded over-the-counter stock. It is one of the few — if not the only — publicly traded seafood companies in the country.

The explosion of aquaculture worldwide has dramatically changed the supply-side dynamics of seafood. Traditionally seafood was available only seasonally, and in limited quantities. It was considered a luxury item, and was primarily consumed by food service and institutional organizations because there wasn’t a large or consistent enough supply for the retail market.

When aquaculture started expanding heavily about 10 years ago, it created an abundant supply of seafood products that weren’t previously available. It rocketed the seafood industry into more of a global trade, and made seafood available at major grocery store chains throughout the U.S.

In the past there was a butcher at nearly every grocery store who cut up meat products for sale. Gradually small meat packing companies replaced the butcher, and then consolidations and mergers of the meat packing companies led to large conglomerates like Tyson Foods, the largest poultry producer in the world. Gutierrez sees seafood going the way of beef and poultry.

“To operate in that commodity-type environment, a Tyson-type operation requires expensive equipment,” Gutierrez said. “You have stronger governmental regulations, and the investments required are more capital intensive. We are visionaries, and our vision of the future is that the seafood industry is going to be consolidated into big conglomerates. And we want to be one.”

Money raised through taking the company public has been used to develop a bait fish division, Killer Bee Bait, which is a full line of frozen bait products for offshore fishing which has been successfully marketed to Wal-Mart, K-Mart, Boaters World, E &B Marine, Tom Thumb Grocery and numerous other outlets.

The company has an alliance with Finicky Pet Food in Pascagoula for production of the bait products. GSFT has also acquired Dragon Bait, one of the premium ballyhoo (a type of bait fish) suppliers in the U.S., located in Marathon, Fla. About $2 million has been invested in the Killer Bee Bait division.

GSFT also invested about $1 million in the purchase of Comar Foods, a value-added seafood processing plant in Irvington, Ala.

GSFT currently imports about 15 million pounds per year of farm-raised shrimp or prawns, Macrobrachium rosenbergii, representing about 20% of the company’s production. For the past couple of years the company has also been working to encourage aquaculture production of the same species here in Mississippi.

GSFT purchased a tilapia farm in Ocean Springs which was converted into a freshwater shrimp hatchery and nursery, and has contracted with large catfish growers in Mississippi to produce the crop here. The company has invested about $500,000 in the freshwater shrimp project.

“We are a primary importer of that product, so we have the market already in place,” Gutierrez said. “We believe we can compete with foreign shrimp operations.”

Gutierrez conducted an economic feasibility study of producing freshwater prawns in Mississippi considering research done in the area by Mississippi State University (MSU). Dr. Lou D’Abramo, a MSU professor and aquaculture biologist, said the university has been studying the potential for freshwater shrimp aquaculture in Mississippi for 13 years.

“Based upon the economic analyses we have done with some of the catfish farmers, we feel that freshwater shrimp farming is as economically attractive as catfish farming,” D’Abramo said.

D’Abramo said Mississippi is ideal to develop shrimp farming because it already has a well-established aquaculture industry.

“Everything is already in place,” D’Abramo said. “I think we are very fortunate to have someone like Mr. Gutierrez, who is very entrepreneurial in nature, to come in to take advantage of this. There is not much more research we could have done. We were looking for someone to take the ball and run with it, and Mr. Gutierrez seems to be that person.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at mullein@datasync.com.

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