In 1986 Portland, Maine, became the home of America’s first all-display fresh seafood auction — the Portland Fish Exchange off Commercial Street, built in the 1850s on top of old piers to accommodate the growing needs of the working waterfront.
Bert Jongerden started working at the Exchange in 1991 as the operation manager, after working for scallop exporter Seatrade. After five years, he left to pursue other opportunities, including working for Prospect Harbor’s Stinson Seafood, Lewiston’s Emery Warehouse, and Hannaford grocery chain, but returned to the exchange again in 2007 as the general manager.
After a solid 40 years in the seafood industry, this winter he is retiring. Jongerden says working with the fishermen and processors has been one of the things he has liked most about working at the Exchange.
“It’s never dull, considering each point of view is very different,” he says.
Jongerden was born in the Netherlands and came to Portland with his parents in the 1960s. In the ’80s, he began his career in seafood sales and production while working on Hobson’s Wharf in Portland.
He has spent most of this life working in seafood trades, experiencing the highs and lows of the business. When Jongerden returned to the exchange as general manager in 2007, groundfish landings were declining dramatically. Many Maine fishing boats and businesses were consolidating or relocating to other parts of New England.
In 2008, Jongerden helped the exchange transition to an Internet-based platform. Up until then, the exchange had hosted a traditional outcry auction, its mechanism for moving seafood since its inception in the ’80s. Jongerden also helped support the exchange by finding other opportunities to diversify its income stream, including leasing space and warehousing lobster bait.
When asked what he is going to miss the most about working at the exchange, Jongerden says he has enjoyed “working with individuals and organizations that are doing their best to maintain and ensure commercial fishing continues here in Maine.”
And while he has enjoyed his time at the Portland Fish Exchange and has been instrumental in supporting it through both profitable and turbulent times, he says there is one thing he will not miss: “Low fish prices.”