Smooth Sailing Ahead

As my 30 plus year tenure at DEM draws to a close, I appreciate the opportunity to reflect back upon the many programs and activities I’ve had the honor and pleasure of participating in and at times leading. Among the most meaningful has been seafood marketing.

Prior to 2011, DEM’s focus on marine fisheries principally involved policy, law and management. Marketing and promotion were not on our radar screen, largely because we deemed resource protection and management to be our central mission. What happened after the resources were landed was generally regarded as a private sector matter, falling outside our purview.

That perspective changed dramatically in 2011, thanks to legislation establishing the Rhode Island Seafood Marketing Collaborative. The new statute, spearheaded by Senator V. Susan Sosnowski, drew upon the groundwork laid by DEM’s Division of Agriculture, which had been working successfully to support RI farmers and the agricultural community via marketing and promotional activities.

Under the leadership of then DEM Director Janet Coit, we convened the Collaborative – a mix of seafood harvesters, dealers and retailers joined by officials from several state agencies and URI – and began working together to build a framework and strategy for marketing and promoting RI seafood. The initiative aligned well with broadening efforts by DEM to support RI’s natural-resource-based industries. For marine fisheries, that included enhanced programs to improve the port facilities in Galilee and Newport, and more flexible approaches to regulating catch and effort.

The results of our work on seafood marketing have been impressive. Over the past 11 years, we developed a solid Rhode Island seafood program highlighted by our flagship RI Seafood brand, a robust SeafoodRI website and FishLine phone app, and a strong social media presence. Our program has been aimed squarely at bolstering consumer awareness and demand for RI seafood. When the COVID pandemic struck and our out-of-state supply chains broke down, the role of RI seafood in our local food system crystalized in importance. We took quick action to increase access to local seafood, enacting a landmark licensing program enabling commercial harvesters to sell their catches directly to consumers and retailers.

My involvement with seafood marketing has been particularly meaningful. I grew up at sea, fishing assiduously with my grandfather off the Jersey shore, then working as a mate on charter boats out of Manasquan, NJ. After a year with the National Marine Fisheries Service at Sandy Hook, NJ, I came to RI for grad school, earning my masters in Marine Affairs at URI, with marine fisheries policy, law and management serving as the focal point for my studies. While in grad school, I continued working on charter boats out of Point Judith, then took on stints with the Marine Law Institute, Marine Advisory Service, Center for Ocean Management Studies, Coastal Resources Management Council, and Narragansett Bay Project, before joining DEM in 1989. Throughout my career at DEM, I have had a broad and diverse portfolio, but marine fisheries has been a consistent thread. I have served as a lead advisor to several DEM Directors on marine fisheries issues, Acting Chief of Fish and Wildlife, Chairman of two species boards for the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, and Chairman of the RI Marine Fisheries Council. I guess you could say that I’ve had fish on my brain throughout my life, and throughout my career.

So the opportunity to help strengthen RI’s marine fisheries by elevating the status of RI seafood in the marketplace has served as a great way to cap my career in state government. What I find most compelling about our seafood marketing efforts is its breadth – it addresses a range of core values. Indeed, there are so many reasons why RI seafood is such a great choice. It’s fresh, healthy, diverse, and delicious, and readily available year-round. It comes from well-managed, sustainable fisheries. It supports our hard-working local fishermen and shellfish farmers. It supports a strong, sustainable and resilient local food system. It serves as an engine for our local economy, helping to boost local businesses. And RI seafood sold and consumed in RI has a low carbon footprint, making it climate-friendly. So increasing sales and consumption of RI seafood in RI has wide-ranging benefits for our Ocean State. How fantastic is that!

My parting salute is to the many partners in our campaign. To an ever increasing extent, the RI market is responding to the messages we have been working so hard to convey. More and more RI businesses are pivoting to RI seafood as a focal point, and finding success in doing so. Thank you for helping to power the growth of our blue economy. There is wind in our “sales”!

Feast of Seven Fishes

The Feast of the Seven Fishes is a traditional Italian-American celebration that takes place on Christmas Eve and brings families and friends together before Christmas Day. Originating in Southern Italy, this tradition has Christian roots but here in the Ocean State it’s a celebration for everyone. Traditionally seven seafood dishes are prepared, consisting of fish, shellfish and various other seafoods. RI Seafood is preparing its feast this year by highlighting our partners, markets, and fishermen! Celebrate your own seven fishes and create dishes with local Rhode Island seafood!

Local Seafood Finder

A Farewell from Director Terry Gray

After 30 years of service, it is going to be hard to imagine a DEM without Bob Ballou. Over his long career, Bob has filled many roles in the Department and his hard work, dedication, and strong belief in our mission helped make DEM the successful and respected agency that it is. Over the past few years, he has directed his energy and enthusiasm as the Chair of the Seafood Marketing Collaborative, a public-private partnership dedicated to the promotion of locally harvested seafood. After 11 years of working tirelessly to expand access and awareness for local seafood and kicking off the amazingly popular Quahog week; his tenure here culminated with drafting the winning grant proposal and implementation of the very successful marketing campaign funded by NOAA’s Saltonstall Kennedy grant. This grant is an extremely competitive national grant that is only awarded to the best and most well developed projects that promote, develop, and market U.S. fisheries. 

The RI Seafood campaign focuses on the enormous benefits of local seafood and promotes opportunities to access RI seafood at markets, restaurants, and directly from commercial harvesters. Bob’s passion and hard work is reflected in the expanding recognition of the RI Seafood brand throughout the state, social media presence, and implementation of the Fishline phone app. If you ever saw a RI Seafood sign at Dave’s, your local fish market, on billboards, at gas stations, or scrolling through your phone, you saw Bob’s hard work come to life. DEM, the Seafood Marketing Collaborative, and the promotion of local seafood will continue but it will always have a little bit of Bob’s flair!

Congratulations Bob, you will be missed and we hope you continue to “Find Your Fresh” well into retirement!”

Upcoming events

Dec. 17: Meet your holiday harvesters at Fresh Harvest Kitchen

9 AM- 2 PM

Dec. 20: Creating Equitable, Sustainable, and Resilient Food Systems

Learn more

Dec. 27: Creating Equitable, Sustainable, and Resilient Food Systems

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Jan. 12: RIFPC's Food Systems Data Dashboard

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Jan.18: 2023 Rhode Island Food System Summit Registration

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Meet your Holiday Harvesters

Fresh Harvest Kitchen

9 East Avenue, Unit F Westerly, RI

Saturday December 17th from 9am - 2pm!

Meet your local RI harvesters as they shuck their bounty, sample local seafood and pick-up/place holiday pre-sale orders.

Place online orders here

Thank you to our RI participating venues!

What to expect


Fisheries Marketing Specialist

C: (619) 278-8275

RI Seafood Marketing Collaborative Website

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