I recently spent three days channeling the spirit of Poseidon, navigating the Seven Seas, avoiding Scylla and Charybdis, and speaking with dozens of fish heads. It was an exhausting three days, but fulfilling and educational. I highly recommend the experience.
The 2015 Seafood Expo North America (SENA), a huge trade show for the seafood industry, ended on Tuesday, though my own SENA-related activities are far from over as I continue to write articles about what I have seen, ate, experienced and learned. SENA is one of my favorite events each year, an Expo worthy of my continued support. The basic Expo events occur from Sunday to Tuesday, over the course of 19 hours, but there are other related events outside those hours, from a Saturday night Chowder Party to a couple early morning Breakfast Presentations.
The 5th Annual iPura Tweet & Blogfest with Triple Pundit will award a $1000 prize to the blogger who they decide has written the Best Overall Coverage of SENA. In addition, several of the best articles will be featured in Triple Pundit, a leading website on ethical, sustainable and profitable business practices. After winning the last two Tweet & Blogfests, I'm competing to make it three in a row, as well as trying to surpass my own personal best from last year. I'd write about SENA even without the contest, but the contest is icing on the cake.
To assist others in understanding and appreciating the scope and diversity of the Expo, I want to offer a list of Twelve Things You Should Know about SENA. These twelve items are the basic aspects of the Expo, some of the most compelling elements of the event. This list should provide you a summary of the multiple reasons why you should plan to attend the Expo next Spring. It is not intended to be comprehensive but will provide you a solid foundation concerning SENA. I will expand upon some of these twelve items in other forthcoming articles.
Once again, I'm repeating this sentiment as I feel it is at the heart of the SENA, an essential element and top reason to attend the event. Each exhibitor has their own unique tale to tell, and their stories can be educational and interesting. For a writer such as I, all of these stories provide a wealth of inspiration. You'll find local and personal stories, such as family businesses passed down from generation to generation or new businesses guided by passionate entrepreneurs. You'll find international stories, compelling tales about different cultures from all over the world. You'll find cooking advice for a variety of seafood species. You'll learn about seafood sustainability and the health benefits of seafood consumption. You'll learn about specific seafood species, from salmon to crabs. You'll learn about fishermen and fish farmers, about those people who harvest seafood.
Some of these stories are easily found, the most apparent elements of each booth. However, if you dig deeper, you can sometimes draw out even more fascinating stories, which may not have received much attention before but deserve to be highlighted. I enjoy sharing all of these stories with my readers, and suspect that other seafood writers feel the same. Keeping all of those tales to myself would be silly. They are meant to be shared, to spread from person to person. As there are so many stories to be found at SENA, we need many more writers who are willing to relate those stories to the public.
SENA is the largest seafood trade event in North America, continuing to grow each year, constantly breaking records on its size and attendance, Last year, over 1090 companies exhibited at the Expo and the exhibit space occupied about 186,000 net square feet. This year, the number of exhibiting companies rose to 1198 and the exhibit space grew to approximately 219,000 net square feet. One of the main reason for this growth is more participation from international companies. You'll get plenty of exercise walking down the 29 aisles of exhibitors. It is far larger than the New England Food Show which is located next door to SENA.
Over 20,000 people attended SENA, indicating the huge interest in this Expo. On Sunday, there was a lengthy line to get into the main exhibit hall, as well as a long line at the coat check area, though subsequent days were lighter. The exhibit hall gets busy, but far less than you would expect for an event this large, likely because the hall is so spread out. Even though the event lasts three days, that is still insufficient time to experience all the Expo has to offer. You'll have to make choices as to which booths and conferences you wish to visit, which people you choose to engage. The size of the event permits a great diversity in exhibitors, allowing you to find whatever you might prefer.
Papua New Guinea? Yes, you can find plenty of countries, from all around the world, exhibiting at SENA. This year, 49 countries chose to exhibit at the show, another record. Back in 2012, only 42 countries exhibited and that number increased to 46 in 2013 and then 48 in 2014. Besides the exhibitors, representatives of over 120 countries also attended the show, providing a huge melting pot of seafood lovers. You'll hear plenty of different languages in the aisles and at the various booths, and you'll also have the opportunity to learn more about different cultures.
For international exhibitors this year, I saw participation by countries including Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada (including Quebec, British Colombia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia), Chile, China, Costa Rica, Denmark, Ecuador, El Savador, France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritius, Mexico, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Peru, Portugal, Saudi Arabia, Scotland, South Korea, Spain, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, Vietnam and others. You can travel the world in a single, large room.
There is no lack of domestic representation either and you'll find exhibitors from states including Alaska, Florida, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Maryland, North Carolina, and Virginia.
SENA is all about commerce, the buying and selling of products and services. Nearly everyone in attendance is there to spend money, many seeking seafood, both fresh and frozen, as well as various processed seafood products, from crab cakes to salmon bacon. Others are there to buy processing equipment, cooking supplies, packaging machinery, labeling equipment, conveyors, and much more. Still others are seeking services, from food safety to third party certification. The exhibitors are seeking new customers as well as trying to retain existing ones. Last year, according to a survey, 84% of the attendees indicated they intended to purchase a seafood-related product based on their Expo experience.
Each morning, before the Expo opens, you'll find tables throughout the convention center filled with people conducting business. Once the Expo opens, much of the business will end up in the main exhibit hall, at small tables at their booths, though business will also continue to be conducted in other parts of the convention center. Seafood is big business and as an example, consider that in 2013, U.S. fishermen landed nearly 10 billion pounds of seafood,worth about $5.5 billion. The top five states which landed the most seafood by volume include: Alaska, Louisiana, Washington, Virginia and California. The top five states which landed the most seafood by value include: Alaska, Massachusetts, Maine, Louisiana, and Washington. Alaska is the seafood king, landing over 50% of the nation's seafood by volume, and about 35% of the nation's seafood by value.
There is an opportunity to learn at every booth. You can learn about the details of specific species, such as blue mussels, salmon, shrimp or tuna. If you want cooking advice, you'll find plenty of recipes and suggestions for preparing seafood. You can familiarize yourself with more complex issues such as sustainability and traceablity. You'll hear explanations about the practices of aquaculture and the methods of wild harvest. If it is related to seafood, there is probably an opportunity or resource available at SENA.
Besides the exhibitors, there were 21 educational seminars, (about 5 less than last year, and none scheduled for Tuesday) in three different tracks: Seafood Safety, Compliance & Quality Assurance; Seafood Business & Marketplace; and Seafood Sustainability. Last year, there were five tracks and it looks like they decided to consolidate the tracks. There were sessions such as Storytelling as a Way to Increase Value and Promote Sustainability; Retail Seafood - The Problem & The Cure; and Moving Towards Alignment: Tuna Sustainability. In addition, there were two Breakfast Presentations, which took place before the official Expo hours, and a Master Class, delving into a specific seafood, Blue Mussels. Each seminar generally lasted from 60-90 minutes, and overall I've found them to be educational and informative. I always make sure to attend several seminars at each Expo.
You won't become a seafood expert at the Expo, but you'll learn plenty and acquire connections, sources and references for additional information and education. I recommend picking up the literature, magazines and brochures at the various booths, as they might provide you additional, important information or even just the URLs for sites for further research.
Why so serious? Sure, SENA is a business event but there is still a place for fun, and that is evident from walking down the various aisles. You'll find costumed characters, from Capt'n Catfish to the Chicken of the Sea Mermaid, as well as a group of stuffed polar bears and a single, rotund panda. This year, there was also a large, plastic tube stuffed with small, stuffed bears. A few of the booths had games you could play, such as a wheel of fortune. Each year, one of the most enjoyable events of the Expo is the Annual Oyster Shucking Competition, a speed shucking contest. For this year's 9th competition, the winner was Daniel Notkin, the owner of Notkin’s Oyster Bar in Montreal, who defeated 13 other shuckers. Last year's winner, Deborah Platt, came in third this year.
The key at the Expo is to enjoy yourself, even though you are there to conduct business.
What a fantastic selection of seafood available at SENA! 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 anchovy, basa, capelin, croaker, grenadier, hoki, kingklip, ono, opah, paiche, sand lance, silverside, and turbot. There is plenty of shellfish, including abalone, clams, conch, crabs, crawfish, lobsters, mussels, oysters, scallops, shrimp, whelks, and more. You'll even find more exotic fare such as alligator, caviar, cockles, frog legs, sea urchin, seaweed and even sea vegetables. If you peruse the exhibits, you'll probably see something you have never seen before. I know I always find something new, and this year I learned about sheefish.
There isn't much edible that lives under the sea which cannot be found at SENA and you should taste some of the weirder options, just because you have the chance. I have to say that I enjoyed some delicious kelp, alligator, laver, caviar and uni this year.
Shrimp is once again the seafood which is available from the most amount of exhibitors at SENA, however I found that there was a relatively small amount of shrimp actually available for tasting. Salmon was the most commonly available seafood for tasting, and it also occupies second place in the number of exhibitors carrying it. That makes sense as salmon occupies the #1 spot in fin fish, about 37.8% of the market share.
You might be surprised that some unusual seafood items were carried by a significant number of exhibitors. For example, there were 16 exhibitors of sea vegetables (2 more than last year). 8 of sea cucumbers, 22 of caviar (9 more than last year), 6 of frog legs (7 less than last year), and 7 of alligator.(3 more than last year), Maybe the growth in the number of caviar exhibitors is a sign of an improving economy.
Seafood sustainability is a dominant element of SENA, with most exhibitors noting the sustainability of their seafood. It is becoming more of a given now rather than just an exception. There were seminars on sustainability issues such as The Changing Landscape Of Sustainable Seafood; Moving Towards Alignment-Tuna Sustainability; and 2 Billion People Are Coming To Dinner, Let's Feed Them Fish! There were several exhibitors representing sustainability third party certification programs such as the Marine Stewardship Council and the Aquaculture Stewardship Council. Besides its prevalence, there is also an evolution which has been occurring in the sustainability realm in recent years. Each year, there are more positive changes and that seems to be continuing once again. I'll go into more detail on Sustainability at SENA in a forthcoming post.
As I have repeatedly said, seafood is a healthy choice. According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) the leading cause of death in the U.S. is heart disease, killing nearly 600,000 people each year. Seafood is so healthy because it can contain significant amounts of Omega-3s, fatty acids including eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Since the 1970s, over 20,000 research studies have been conducted on the health benefits of EPA and DHA. The main conclusion is that eating seafood twice a week reduces the chances of dying from heart disease by 36%. You probably won't find another single food that has been scientifically proven to reduce heart disease so significantly.
Besides all the benefits to your heart. seafood provides plenty of other health benefits too. The Omega-3s help brain fiunctions and they are even a secondary treatment for depression. Seafood also contains plenty of beneficial vitamins and minerals. Out of everything that you can eat, seafood is probably your healthiest option.
If nothing else, you can savor the multitude of free seafood samples you will find at SENA. Many of the exhibitors offer samples of their seafood products, and you'll find seafood prepared in many different ways, such as chowders, soups, pate, batter fried, marinated, pickled, dried, raw, smoked, salads, smoked, sushi and much more. There will be plenty of salmon products, as well as raw oysters, steamed mussels, crab cakes, and seaweed smoothies. Each year, there are plenty of new products offered, though you will likely find some prior favorites still around.
You can savor the abundant bounty of the sea all day and you might be so stuffed by the end of the day that you won't even want dinner,though I know some attendees and exhibitors who went out for a seafood dinner once the Expo closed for the day. Who wouldn't enjoy all that free seafood? Some of the best samples you will find are prepared by some creative chefs. It is just a matter of locating the booths of those inventive people. You can also feel good that at the end of the event, SENA donates several thousand pounds of seafood product to the Greater Boston Food Bank Network.
Let me tell you the biggest secret about Expo, something which may not seem obvious to an outside observer. The secret is that SENA is not really about the fish and other seafood. It's not? Then what's the deal with the many thousand pounds of seafood? In fact, all that seafood is merely a means to an end. SENA is actually about people, about community. Fish are only food, intended to provide sustenance and nutrition to people, and that is understood, though largely unspoken, by the exhibitors and attendees.
SENA is also about fishermen and fish farmers, distributors and retailers, inventors and importers. It is about all of the people involved in the seafood industry, and their economic well being. It is about the global economy as the seafood industry is truly international and affects people all across the world. SENA is about people coming together to conduct business, to help each other in one way or another.
Concerns about seafood sustainability ultimately come down to the fate of people, whether future generations will have enough food to survive, and whether they will live in a clean world, with adequate resources. The fate of the oceans and the fish directly relates to the fate of mankind. When you understand that SENA is all about people, then the issues take on an even greater significance. We need to talk about this more, you ensure that everyone understands people are the primary concern. It is our future and nothing is more important than that.
“The sea can bind us to her many moods, whispering to us by the subtle token of a shadow or a gleam upon the waves, and hinting in these ways of her mournfulness or rejoicing. Always she is remembering old things, and these memories, though we may not grasp them, are imparted to us, so that we share her gaiety or remorse.”