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Extension Program Reaches Milestone

Louisiana Sea Grant’s Marine Extension Program (MEP) will hold its 200th advisory meeting in the spring of 2022.

One of only a handful of Sea Grant programs that conduct meetings like this, Louisiana Sea Grant (LSG) has supported Extension efforts since 1968. The MEP is made up of 20 specialists and agents who have expertise in fisheries, aquaculture, water quality, toxicology, ecology, geography, economics and law. Agents are university faculty who live and work in coastal parishes, while the specialists generally work in academic units on the Louisiana State University-Baton Rouge campus.

“We’ve held a two-day MEP meeting on a quarterly basis for the past 50 years,” said Rex Caffey, current Extension director. “When circumstances required – such as oil spills, flood and hurricanes – we’ve met more frequently to exchange information to help our stakeholders through the crisis.

“Recently, I realized this will be the 200th  time we’ve come together to meet. It’s a milestone, given we’re probably one of the longest running marine advisory programs in the nation,” Caffey added. “These meetings are critical because of the two-way exchange of information that occurs between campus, field offices and coastal communities.”

When they first began, the meetings were open only to agents and specialists. Their conversations focused primarily on extension topics related to the commercial harvesting of marine crustacean, mollusk and finfish stocks. Agents would take what they learned to fishers, docks and processors, as well as share industry issues with specialist who would try to find new methods and solutions.

Eventually, the meetings opened to LSG education, law and policy, and communications personnel as the Marine Extension Program expanded into limnology, hydrology, aquaculture, disaster assessment, hazard awareness, coastal resilience and disaster recovery. A typical meeting of the program today includes a variety of interests, from researchers sharing their findings, to regulatory updates from resource management agencies to program initiatives from trade associations and environmental organizations.

The backbone of the meetings; however, is a round-the-horn session in which agents and specialists provide a series of rapid-fire updates highlighting the most pressing issues of their regions and focus areas. “It’s how we start every meeting,” said Caffey. “And it’s amazing to see how interest in round-the-horn has grown over the years – especially amongst researchers who increasingly attend as observers to gain insight on the needs of Louisiana’s coastal communities.”

According to Ken Roberts, who served as Extension director in the ‘90s, it is important to note the success story of the MEP considering some of the administrative challenges. LSG is housed on the LSU-Baton Rouge main campus. Extension personnel are housed in the LSU AgCenter, which was a separate campus until a few years ago.

A rapport between Sea Grant and AgCenter Extension administrators has always been needed in order for the MEP to thrive, Roberts noted. “It’s not credited enough how much the two Extension directors do on these campuses to make the MEP a success,” said Roberts.

Most recently, COVID-19 dramatically changed how the MEP interacted, forcing meetings to be held virtually – at least temporarily. There are positives of virtual meetings, such as being able to meet on short notice and reducing costs, but according to Michael Liffmann, who served as Extension director from 1995-2007, “the team-building that results from the one-on-one interactions and socializing and mentoring cannot be done virtually.” To the extent practical, in-person MEP meetings should be continued on a regular basis, he said. They are excellent forums for building and strengthening partnerships between Extension, LSG, resource managers, non-governmental organizations and the research community.