Excerpt from Terrebonne Parish: Stories of the Good Earth
Ernest A. Voisin
Ernest Voisin grew up speaking Cajun-French. His parents, fifth generation immigrants from France, were among those who settled in the Bayou region of Louisiana. However, young Ernest was forced to speak English in school; and, that was the impetus that fueled his ambitions.
In 1947, following High School Graduation and a restless period, Ernest headed to Southern California and found a new life and a new culture. He was smitten with the lifestyle, married, settled in Torrance, and had five children.
He joined a small plastics company and entered management. He took college classes and learned about business operations and development while supporting his family. He divorced, remarried, and decided to move back to the bayou. He, and his brother, Charles, spent hours mulling over designs and blueprints that would enable them to construct an automatic oyster dredge. It was not without trial and error, but they persevered, applied for, and were granted a patent on the apparatus. Soon thereafter, Charles decided to pursue other interests.
Motivatit Seafoods was incorporated in 1971. Ernest, along with his twin sons, Michael and Steven, began building oyster boats and automatic oyster dredges while operating an oyster processing facility. Ernest’s day to day management style, engineering talent, willingness to take risks along with his vast experience enabled the company to prosper. Together they either purchased or discovered several thousand acres of oyster leases and started working with Harry Dardar, Sr., a fisherman who taught the family many things “out on the water.”
Ernest had come a long way since his humble beginnings and was crowned “King” of the 1976 Oyster Festival in Bayou Lafourche and Michael was crowned “Prince” the same year.
A rewarding relationship with A. J. Buquet/Buquet Canning Co. resulted in the purchase of the latter’s business location, more oyster leases, and the majority of their oyster boat fleet.
Ernest and sons continued growing the business and established two distribution points–Los Angeles and Miami. They constructed the M/V Miss Joyce (a 75.9-foot steel hull oyster boat) at the shop and launched her in 1989. Not long afterward, Ernest’s wife passed away at a very young age.
In the 1990s, Motivatit became concerned for the safety of its customers due to the bacteria Vibrio Vulnificus. The Voisins searched for a way to remove the bacteria without altering the raw oyster’s characteristics. They tried irradiation, depuration, and several freezing methods without any success. One day, Elgin Voisin, Ernest’s cousin, was reading a magazine about the Flow International Corporation. Flow recently developed a high pressure processing machine capable of killing bacteria while leaving the products taste and texture in perfect condition. Ernest, along with Dr. Marilyn B. Kilgen of Nicholls State University, tested the oysters through the innovative equipment and discovered that the bacteria was eliminated and, surprisingly, the abductor muscle had released from the shell, literally shucking itself. A patent on the process was applied for and granted.
Ernest remarried in 2006. A couple of years later, in 2009, Ernest passed away leaving a legacy that would serve his heirs well into the future. Michael continued with special attention to the industry development, public relations, and community involvement. Michael passed away in 2013. The industry lost one of its strongest voices. Steven has been instrumental in oyster farm development, processing and special projects. Steven, along with several of Ernest’s grandchildren is continuing his father’s and brother’s legacy.
Motivatit’s mission is to: Lead the way in Oyster Production, good manufacturing practices and food safety compliance in order to satisfy customers with reliable, quality products.
Today, Motivatit employs 80 to 100 people including an amazing team of managers and supervisors and has income exceeding $10 million annually with a customer base established throughout the United States. The company harvests oysters from its farm and public grounds, purchases oysters from several producers along the Gulf and East Coasts, processes a full line of oysters, and leases property to other companies in its industrial park.