Tuesday, March 18, 2014

SENA14: Eleven Things You Need To Know

Wherever the fish are, that's where we go.
--Richard Wagner

The 2014 Seafood Expo North America (SENA) is now over and it's nearly time for this Fish Head Whisperer to take a rest. It has been a hectic, yet fun, three days, meeting great people, learning plenty about all aspects of the seafood industry, tasting a bounty of delicious seafood and finding fascinating stories. This is an event I have promoted and recommended for several years, and which I will continue to support in the coming years. Every local writer who has any interest in seafood should attend this Expo.

To assist people in understanding and appreciating the scope and diversity of the Seafood show, I want to offer my own list of Eleven Ten Things You Need To Know about SENA. These are the basic aspects of the Expo, and I hope this list provides you an excellent summary about some of the most compelling elements of the show, and hopefully give you plenty of reasons why you should make plans to attend next year. Overall, it is a worthy event, and I am sure that I will attend next year's Expo too.

1.  Every exhibit booth tells a story.
Though I repeat this sentiment every year, it remains one of the most essential aspects of the Seafood Expo. It cannot be denied that each exhibit booth has its own unique and interesting tale, fertile inspiration for any writer. The potential story ideas range across a broad spectrum of seafood-related topics, from cooking to sustainability, from fishing to retail advice. You'll find local and personal stories, family businesses that have been around for many years, or new businesses that are trying to succeed. You'll also find international stories, compelling tales about different cultures from all over the world.  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. Who doesn't enjoy a great story? Scott Nichols, of Verlasso Salmon, once told me that "fish cannot tell their own stories, so you have to tell it for them." That is at the core of the job of fishermen, aquaculture farmers, retailers, restaurants, supermarkets, and more. They need to explain the stories of the fish they sell as those interesting tales will help them sell more seafood. And for a writer like me, I revel in hearing these compelling tales from the exhibitors at the Seafood Expo. If a story is interesting enough, then I want to share it with my readers, spreading my passion for seafood.

2.  It is a huge event.
Billing itself as "the largest seafood trade event in North America," SENA continues to get larger each year and attendance records were broke once again. This year, there were over 1090 companies exhibiting and the exhibit space has risen from 185,780 net square feet in 2013 to over 197,000 net square feet this year. The attendance reached over 19,000, breaking another record. And this year, a larger number of local bloggers attended the Expo too, which will mean even greater coverage for the seafood industry.

It seemed more crowded this year, especially on Sunday and Monday, and at times it was slow walking down the aisles because of all of the people. However, despite the large number of attendees, there still is rarely is a significant line at any booth. What helps is that the huge crowd of attendees is spread out over a vast exhibit hall. They are not compressed into a small area. Fortunately, SENA also last for three days, as there is so much to see and do, and even those three days are only sufficient for you to experience a fraction of what is there. The large number of exhibitors allows there to be a huge diversity of products and services, catering to all needs and preferences. Make sure you get plenty of rest the night before, and wear comfortable shoes, as you'll be walking plenty.

3.  It is very international in scope.
In 2012, about 42 countries exhibited at the Expo while 46 exhibited in 2013. This year, the number increased once again, to 48, and you will also 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, especially at the regional pavilions. For example, the above picture is from the Morocco pavilion. At each booth, the exhibitors are eager to share information about their countries, cultures and seafood.

For international exhibitors, you will find participation by countries such as Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada (including Quebec, British Colombia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia), Chile, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Denmark, Ecuador, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Japan, Latvia, Malaysia, Maldives, Mexico, Morocco, Myanmar, Netherlands, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, Norway, Panama, Peru, Portugal, Scotland, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, United Kingdom, Vietnam and others. Though there may be plenty of conflict on the international stage, you won't find it at SENA. Rather, you will discover that a shared love for seafood brings people from all over the world together without dissension or enmity.

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.

4.  It is a business event.
At its essence, it is all about commerce. The exhibitors are there offering products and services they wish to sell to attendees, including fresh & frozen food, processing equipment, cooking supplies, food safety services, computer systems, financial services, insurance, laboratory testing, and much more. They are seeking new customers as well as trying to retain existing ones. Often, an exhibitor booth will plenty of brochures, flyers, pamphlets, business cards and other documents to educate potential customers, and to give them contact information.

According to a survey, the top reason for attendees to visit the Expo is to meet with existing suppliers and find new suppliers. As you pass by the various booths, you'll often see people huddled at tables engaged in business. Filling out purchasing orders, negotiating prices, discussing specifics needs, and much more. And seafood is big business.

For example, the U.S. seafood industry generates approximately $129 billion in sales impacts and $37 billion in income impacts, supporting about 1.2 million jobs. Alaska possesses the largest portion of landing revenues, $1.9 billion, while Massachusetts, my home state, comes in second place at $33 million. Another New England state, Maine, takes third place with $381 million. And none of these figures touch on the value of the international seafood industry.

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. If it is related to seafood, there is probably an opportunity or resource here available for you to consult.

Besides the exhibitors, there were over 25 educational seminars, in five different tracks: Retail & Marketing, Food Safety & Compliance, Foodservice & Processing, Sustainability and Seafood Business Leadership. You could find sessions such as Is Aquaculture Sustainable?, Seafood Mislabeling & Fraud, and Fisheries Improvement on a Budget. There were also a series of Master Classes, each delving deeply into a specific seafood, including Lobster, Salmon and Oysters. Each seminar last from 60-90 minutes, and overall I have 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 will be pleased with all that you have learned. I certainly believe I have learned plenty from the Expo over the years.

6.  It is a fun event.
Though the event is primarily business oriented, that doesn't mean everything has to be serious. First, I found most of the exhibitor to be down-to-earth, easy to laugh and joke. That makes conversations very easy and enjoyable. Second, there are other diversions for your enjoyment. For example, you could have watched the 8th Annual Oyster Shucking Competition, a speed shucking contest with 15 contestants. This year, they had their first female winner, Deborah Pratt, who works for the Virginia Marine Products Board. She shucked a dozen oysters in an adjusted time of 90 seconds, and won the first prize of $700.

You could find some exhibitors offer games or contests at their booths, such as guessing the identity of a strange fish or spinning a wheel of fortune. This year, you could have potentially won 6 pounds of Maine seafood, or maybe a model Toothfish. You could also observe some Chef Demos, maybe watching one carefully slice sushi or another preparing a mussel dish. As you wandered the aisles, you could interest with costumed characters, from Capt'n Catfish to the Chicken of the Sea Mermaid. Or get your picture taken with one of the huge, stuffed polar bears or the rotund, stuffed panda. The key is to enjoy yourself, even if you have to conduct business at the Expo.

7.  There is a wide diversity of seafood.
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 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, 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.

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, frog legs and uni this year.

8.  Shrimp is dominant but salmon is ubiquitous.
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 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. After salmon, the seafood carried by the most amount of exhibitors included crab, squid, cod, tuna and tilapia. You might be surprised that some of even the more unusual seafood items still were carried by a number of exhibitors. For example, there were 14 exhibitors of sea vegetables. 13 of caviar, 13 of frog legs, and 4 of alligator.

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 Gulf Seafood Today: Marketing, Traceability, and Sustainability, Lessons Learned: How the Shrimp Industry Can Recover and be More Sustainable in a Post-EMS world, and Pathways to Sustainability - A discussion of the practical solutions to accelerate the aquaculture industry towards greater sustainability. 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. It seemed as if there were more signs at the booths too indicating the sustainability of their products.

There are still a few bothersome elements at the show, seafood like Blue Fin Tuna and Shark Fin which have significant sustainability problems. Change is still coming to these areas though. For example, at least seven U.S. states ban Shark Fin and Massachusetts is working towards making it illegal too. The Chinese are the largest consumers of shark fins though they have been moving away from them. For example, they are now banned from official banquets. As for Blue Fin Tuna, the Japanese, who consume about 80% of the world's supply, are starting to cut back consumption. Japan recently agreed to significant cuts in the quotas for juvenile Blue Fin. These cuts are hoped to lead other countries to cut their quotas as well.

I'll have much more to say about Sustainability in another post coming in the next couple days.

10.  Seafood is healthy.
As I have said often, 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. Out of everything that you can eat, you must include seafood in your diet.

11.  Seafood samples are abundant.
If the first ten items have not been sufficiently persuasive, then this final reason should convince you. Many 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 never eat breakfast when I attend the Expo because I know I can start sampling seafood at 10am. You can enjoy the bounty of the sea all day, and you might not even want dinner that evening. Each year, there are new foods to try, and you will find some old favorites still around as well. Who wouldn't enjoy all that free seafood?

You can expect additional posts about the SENA 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. The Seafood Expo is always inspiring, sparking my creativity. I hope too you read the posts from other local bloggers about the Expo. If you have anything in particular you would like to know about the SENA, please ask me and I will see if I can help you out.

"No human being, however great, or powerful, was ever so free as a fish."
---John Ruskin