Sunday, March 11, 2012

International Boston Seafood Show: Twelve Things You Should Know

Fish is held out to be one of the greatest luxuries of the table and not only necessary, but even indispensable at all dinners where there is any pretence of excellence or fashion.
--Isabella Beeton, a famous cookery writer of the 19th century

This is my third year attending the 2012 International Boston Seafood Show (IBSS) at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Centerand last year was also the 1st Annual iPura Tweet & Blogfest at IBSS 2011. This was a contest for local bloggers in which their coverage of the seafood show was judged by an impartial third party. I am proud to say that my coverage won last year's competition. This year, iPura has returned with their 2nd Annual iPura Tweet & Blogfest, and has even upped the ante. The basic rules are very similar, and there is now a second cash prize for Best Coverage of "Seafood Sustainability," sponsored by Global G.A.P.

As the reigning champion, I have returned to try to retain my crown, to continue to be known as the Fish Head Whisperer, and I previously issued a challenge to all local bloggers to come out and try to dethrone me. My challenge even advised my would-be competitors on  how to defeat me. I know several local bloggers were at the IBSS today, with plans to try to defeat me, and I am sure there are others out there as well, trying their best to win the contest. I suspect that coverage of the IBSS by local bloggers will far surpass the coverage, by quantity and quality, by all of the local newspapers. New media is stepping forward on the stage and delivering.

I want to provide an overview of the show, some of its most important aspects, and is being presented as the Twelve Ten Things You Should Know about the IBSS. This will provide a good idea of the scope, diversity and depth of the seafood show, and give you reasons why you should attend it during the next couple days, or at least to make plans to attend next year. Some of what you find here may be similar to a bit of what I wrote last year, but there are significant differences as well. Overall, it is a worthy event, and I am very pleased that I chose to attend again, and will also be attending for the remaining two days. In addition, I am sure that I will try to attend next year's show too.

1.  Every exhibit booth tells a story.
What are these polar bear cubs doing? For a writer, the seafood show is fertile soil for a myriad of story ideas as each exhibit booth has its own unique and interesting story. The range of stories covers a broad spectrum of seafood-related topics, from cooking to sustainability, from fishing to retail advice. You'll find local stories, family businesses that have been around for many years, or new businesses that are trying to succeed. I learned of a grandfather who created salmon bacon for his allergic granddaughter. You'll also find international stories, learning about different cultures from all over the world. Hello Kitty Nori? You might think you know about common fish like salmon and oysters, but you'll be surprised at what you can learn about them here, while you can also learn about less common fish like barramundi, opah and hoki. All of this fascinating information will appeal to more than just writers, and can help chefs, home cooks, vendors, fishermen, and much more. As I said before, who doesn't enjoy a great story?

2.  It is a huge event.
This year's IBSS is their biggest ever, with over 1019 companies exhibiting in approximately 1700 booths, which is over a 6% increase from last year. In 2011, the IBSS had over 18,000 attendees which is sure to be at least equaled, and probably surpassed this year. With its great size, you are fortunate that the IBSS runs for three days, so you have plenty of time to see everything that interests you. Even with three days, you won't be able to stop at every booth and chat with the exhibitors, so you must carefully select where you wish to stop and explore.

The vastness though allows a huge diversity of products and services, catering to all needs and preferences. You should find plenty of new items and services too, and they might spark a new desire within you. In general, the crowd is very manageable, and you won't have to wait too long at any specific booth. It can sometimes be a little tight maneuvering down the aisles, but far better than many smaller events. What helps is that the huge crowd of attendees is spread out over a vast exhibit hall. Make sure you get plenty of rest the night before, as you will have to do lots of walking and standing, though there are places where you can find a place to sit for a brief respite.

3.  It is very international in scope.
Approximately 42 different countries will be exhibiting at IBSS, though you will find representatives of over 120 countries attending the show, a real melting pot of seafood lovers. As you meander down the aisles, and though English is dominant, you will still hear a variety of languages and you have the opportunity to learn much about these other countries. At each booth, the exhibitors are eager to share information about their countries and cultures.

There is plenty of domestic representation, from New England to Florida, from Alaska to Louisiana. Alaska, Maine and Mississippi all have a greater presence this year at the show. For international exhibitors, you will find participation by countries such as Brazil, Chile, China, Ecuador, Estonia, India, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Morocco, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Puerto Rico, Scotland, Turkey, Vietnam and many more. Though there may be plenty of conflict on the international stage, you won't find it at IBSS. Rather, you will discover that a shared love for seafood brings people from all over the world together without dissension or enmity.

4.  It is a business event.
At the bottom line, all of the exhibitors and most of the attendees are there to engage in business, to make money. The exhibitors are offering products and services they wish to sell to attendees, such as selling new frozen fish products to restaurants and food markets. The attendees buying these items intend to make a profit off the sale or use of such products and services. As you pass some of the booths, you will see business people huddled at tables, discussing prices and terms. The exhibitors usually have plenty of brochures, flyers, pamphlets, and more available for attendees to take and later read at their leisure. I have accumulated a mountain of such documents and flyers, providing me additional resources for potential future posts. Besides trying to sell things, the exhibitors are also eager to speak with the media, in hopes of getting the word out about their products or services, especially if they are new and still largely unknown to many. Who doesn't love good publicity?

5.  It is an educational event.
As you stop by the various booths, you will have the chance to learn so very much that is seafood related. You can learn about the different types of tuna, the spawning life of salmon, or the eating habits of lobster. If you are seeking cooking advice, you will find plenty of recipes, as well as receive plenty of suggestions for preparing all types of seafood. You can learn much about sustainability, which is a complex issue and thus education is very important. You will learn about the ins and out of catching wild fish as well as the intricacies of aquaculture, of farmed seafood. Besides the exhibitors, there are educational seminars, in five different tracks: Retail, Food Safety, Foodservice, Processing/Service, and Sustainability. You can find sessions such as Seafood Jobs in America, Seafood Substitution, Food Safety Compliance, and A Retailer's Guide to Sustainable Seafood. You may not leave the show being a seafood expert, but it is probable that you will leave knowing much more than you did when you arrived.

6.  It is a fun event.
Though the event is primarily business oriented, that does not mean there is no room for fun. There is plenty to occupy your attention besides buying and selling. You can watch the 6th Annual Oyster Shucking Competition, a speed shucking contest where Jorge Hernandez of Elliott’s Oyster House in Seattle will try to defend his title. Once again, there is a Games Lounge where you can relax with a game such as ping pong. You will find several vendors that offer their own games or contests. You can watch some of the Chef Demos, and watch them prepare a delectable seafood appetizer or entree. Maybe you want to interact with a costumed character like Capt'n Catfish or get your photo taken with a polar bear or maybe even a panda. So the key is to enjoy yourself, even if you are conducting some business.

7.  There is a wide diversity of seafood.
What a fantastic selection of seafood available at IBSS! Besides the familiar fish, such as tuna, salmon, catfish, cod, flounder, herring, pollock, trout and such, you will also find much less common fish, such as capelin, croaker, grenadier, hoki, kingklip, lumpfish, ono, opah, and sturgeon. There is plenty of shellfish, including clams, crabs, lobsters, mussels, oysters, scallops, and more. You'll even find more exotic fare such as alligator, caviar, eel, frog legs, sea urchin, seaweed and even sea vegetables. There isn't much edible that lives under the sea which cannot be found at IBSS and you should taste some of the weirder options, just because you have the chance.

8.  Shrimp is dominant but salmon is ubiquitous.
Shrimp is the seafood which is available from the most amount of exhibitors at IBSS, yet as you walk around the show, it certainly seems that salmon is far more common, and there was an abundance of salmon samples available for tasting. Salmon was available from many countries and regions, such as Norway, Alaska, and Scotland, in a diverse mix of preparations,such as salmon bacon, salmon jerky, and salmon mignons. As salmon is one of the healthiest fishes you can eat, rich in Omega-3s, then maybe it is good that salmon was so prevalent. After salmon, Tilapia came in second place in ubiquity and Cod trailed closely behind in third place.

9.  Sustainability is prevalent.
Seafood sustainability appears to be a much more prominent topic this year than last. More exhibitors were discussing and addressing issues of sustainability and there are also more seminars on sustainability issues. Some of the seminars include: A Retailers’ Guide to Sustainable SeafoodMaking Sense of Seafood Sustainability through Positive Engagement and Implementing a Sustainable Seafood Program for your Restaurant. As I mentioned last year, this is a very positive sign, a hope that more and more individuals and companies involved in the seafood industry are concerning about saving the bounty of the sea. Over the next couple days at IBSS, I will be following up with several different companies on sustainability issues, which will be the topics for future posts.

10.  Seafood is healthy.
As I said above, seafood is often a very healthy choice. Most importantly, fish contains varying amounts of Omega-3s, polyunsaturated fats, which have been scientifically proven to significantly reduce the risk of cardiovascular death. In fact, it is the only dietary factor where there is clear proof that it can reduce cardio-related deaths. As you speak to the various exhibitors, they will often mention the health benefits of their seafood products, using that as an important selling point. Though some people might worry about the dangers of seafood, such as mercury and PCBs, those dangers are generally minimal for most people, and any risk is far outweighed by the health advantages.

11.  Japan is recovering.
Today was an emotional day for some, as it is the one-year anniversary of the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. That terrible tragedy caused much death and devastation and its repercussions are still being felt. But the Japanese exhibitors were very positive, and many noted that their businesses were nearly back to normal now. The largest problem they underwent was the decrease in the value of the yen, which adversely affected their businesses. They also wanted to make it very clear that their seafood was safe for consumption, that no one need fear radiation. I attended a seminar on that very topic, and will be writing a more detailed post later. Just as the Gulf Coast disaster was a main topic at IBSS last year, now it is Japan's turn to be on the main stage.

12.  Seafood samples are abundant.
If the first eleven items have not been persuasive, if they have not convinced you that you should check out the IBSS, then this final reason should be sufficient in of itself. Most of the exhibitors offer free samples of their seafood products, and the vast majority of them are tasty, if not quite delicious. Fresh sushi, smoked salmon, seafood arancini, raw oysters, seafood pies, fried shrimp, a variety of crab cakes, sauteed alligator and so much more. I didn't eat breakfast this morning because I knew I would be sampling seafood shortly after 10am. And all day, I was able to partake of a plethora of items, and have seconds or even thirds of those I really enjoyed. I will be doing the same on Tuesday and Wednesday as well, loading up on Omega-3s.

You can expect additional posts about the IBSS over the next couple days, and I am sure I will write even more posts over time, following up on some fascinating items that I have learned or encountered. I have been inspired by the International Boston Seafood Show, and I shall let that muse guide my creativity. If you have anything in particular you would like to know about the IBSS, please tell me and I will see if I can help you out.

"In the hands of an able cook, fish can become an inexhaustible source of perpetual delight."
---Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

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