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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Competitive Cabinet mulls seafood woes, goes fishing



Cabinet members heard some tough news about the state's seafood industry during Tuesday's meeting in Panama City.

Florida's seafood? Fresh and healthy and uncontaminated as can be. Consumer confidence in Florida's seafood? Well, not good.

The problem: Inland Floridians just haven't gotten the message that the state's seafood is safe.

A poll finished Sunday revealed that the public's concern for seafood safety is spiking again after falling considerably since the Deepwater Horizon explosion, said Nelson Mongiovi, the agency's director of marketing and development. He blamed increased media attention on the anniversary for reminding people about the spill.

"It is simply a perception problem," he said.

Promoting Florida's seafood and natural attractions was at the heart of Tuesday's meeting, the first held outside of the capital. The meeting was light on business and a little quirky -- each Cabinet member wore a personalized aqua fishing shirt. They needed the gear for a fishing competition Tuesday afternoon.

The Department of Agriculture plans to counteract the negative perception of Florida's seafood with a $10 million marketing campaign paid for by BP. Commissioner Adam Putnam held up a full-page color ad in USA Today purchased by the department during the meeting. Other plans for the "Florida Gulf Safe" campaign include TV commercials, celebrity promotions, online coupon sites and "fisherman's media training" for talking to reporters.

Gov. Rick Scott and Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission officials announced a few incentives to get business going. Florida's bay scallop season will be extended by three weeks. There will also be two weekends in June (4-5, 18-19) that will allow saltwater fishing without a license. And Florida state parks will offer half-price admission on Mothers Day and Fathers Day.

In other Cabinet news, Attorney General Pam Bondi honored Mike Jones, Bay County School District's chief of safety, security and police, who in December shot a gunman who had held school board members at gunpoint and fired several shots their way. Everyone survived except for the gunman, who shot himself in the head after Jones' bullets struck his body.

"We want everyone in the state of Florida to know what you've done," Bondi said.

Before Cabinet members boarded individual boats for the fishing excursion at the Panama City Marina, Scott announced the creation of a new website for people who boating and fishing: The website is sponsored by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission and Visit Florida.

Cabinet members took off in their own boats for the fishing venture, accompanied by camera crews from "Bass 2 Billfish," a Florida fishing show. They traded jibes throughout the afternoon, with Scott saying, "We all know that I'm gonna win."

"You can probably tell we're all a little bit competitive," he said.

CFO Jeff Atwater even joked that if he lost, he would "cut off the finances to your respective agencies." He won, so no worries.

[Last modified: Wednesday, April 20, 2011 1:17am]


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