Gloucester gears up for Seafood Expo
They've handed out an assortment of Gloucester-landed seafood delicacies to thousands of visitors and consistently promoted the city as a source of unrivaled fresh seafood and as a historic fishing community.
They've weathered a show-closing blizzard and strung the Gloucester narrative on billboards along Route 1, featuring the city's current fishermen and lobstermen for all the motorized world to see.
And two years ago, drawing upon their burgeoning international friendships, they had to borrow a monkfish from the visiting contingent of Scottish fishermen to complete their Gloucester Fresh seafood display at a VIP tasting. Fortunately, the Scots were packing a beauty.
Now the city, a legion of volunteers and a solid lineup of local seafood companies are gearing up for the city's sixth consecutive appearance at the massive Seafood Expo North America at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center in South Boston.
The show, which draws thousands of seafood buyers and sellers from around the world, is set to run March 15 to 17 at the cavernous convention center in the Seaport District. At least for the last five years, Gloucester has been the only municipality with its own booth at the show.
"I call it our Super Bowl," said Sal Di Stefano, the city's economic development director and its point man for organizing the varied elements that go into each year's appearance. "It's incredible that it's our sixth year. Time sure flies."
And things change.
The city arrived six years as a relative neophyte and no one really knew what to expect. But over time the Gloucester presence and status has grown at the internationally renowned show along with the Gloucester Fresh brand.
With about $20,000 in annual funding from the city and the state's Seaport Economic Council, the Gloucester booth has been expanded to the Gloucester Fresh Pavilion.
In partnership with the Gloucester Fishermen's Wives Association and SnapChef, the city's VIP tastings and receptions have become must-attend events at the show. They draw seafood buyers from around the globe and dignitaries such as Gov. Charlie Baker, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton, former New England Patriot Jarvis Green and David Gibbons, the executive director of the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority and a Rockport resident.
"Nobody leverages what happens in this building better than Gloucester," Gibbons said at last year's highly successful appearance.
Di Stefano said this year's appearance largely will follow the playbook from years past — particularly last year, when the city counted more visitors to its booth than ever before and more business contacts for Gloucester seafood businesses.
"We have a great team that really works well together," Di Stefano said, mentioning Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken, the city's Fisheries Commission, the Gloucester Fishermen's Wives Association and Todd Snopkowski and his SnapChef staff. "It used to be that we'd have local companies that would come and hang out at our booth. Now they're exhibiting on their own. We call them our Gloucester Fresh graduates."
Last year, the state's Division of Marine Fisheries and Department of Agriculture, created a special exhibition space near the Gloucester booth, called Massachusetts Avenue. It was set up specifically for Bay State seafood companies — including Gloucester's Cape Seafoods, Intershell International and North Atlantic/Pacific Seafoods — to promote their seafood offerings.
All three of those companies said they generated new business at last year's show. They will be joined this year by East Gloucester-based Cape Ann Lobstermen.
Di Stefano said other Gloucester seafood companies without booths of their own can get free tickets to the show and use the Gloucester Fresh Pavilion as a venue for meetings with seafood buyers.
Each year, SnapChef, using GFWA recipes and local seafood, whips up a number of delicacies for tastings and give-aways at the Gloucester Fresh booth. Last year's lobster arancini almost produced a stampede.
This year? This year's signature dish will be haddock.