Last week I met the president of Iceland. Well, we weren't formally introduced, but I took his photo as he shook hands with folks at a reception held at the new Eimskip operation in Portland, Maine (that's him in the center of the photo below).
The Icelandic shipping company's choice as Portland for its North American operations center is supposed to be a good thing for our little port. As I walked around the terminal, I tried to find people with seafood companies on their name tags. I wanted to find out what they thought it meant for the industry here.
For Sean Bergen of Sustainable Seafood Sales, located just down the street, the answer was positive. He's an importer, and Eimskip's containers are expected to be delivering fish from Norway as part of their international cargo.
On the outgoing side, I talked to Derek Hardy of Island Seafoods (pictured), from Deer Isle, about three hours north. He had attended Maine International Trade Day, held earlier that same day where President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson was keynote speaker. Derek's in the lobster business, and Eimskip's Portland home may help him if he sells those lobsters to Asia. He had even more "good news" to relay: President Grímsson mentioned during his speech that global warming is actually a good thing for northern ports like ours. Melting ice could cut down shipping times by as much as 40 percent during the warmer months.
In the talk about seafood I didn't hear groundfish mentioned at the Eimskip terminal — even though it's nearby docks where about 350 boats landed groundfish 15 years ago. Like many New England ports, Portland's industry has shrunk in terms of the number of groundfish boats, reeling from the double whammy of catch shares and the drop in quota of important species like cod.
National Fisherman covers all U.S. coasts, but when events happen close to home, we like to escape our cubicles and go. Last month my colleague Linc Bedrosian covered a much different seafood-related event in our backyard. He traveled two hours south to go to a groundfish rally in Boston. His story is in our July issue on page 14.
These fishermen are fighting for their livelihoods, and I think they're doing a good job. New England's groundfish industry has gained some powerful political supporters, and it may eventually benefit from the rejigging of Magnuson where talk of flexibility seems to be well-received. It's a fight on several fronts: In Maine, the legislature is trying to throw the industry a lifeline with a couple recent funding proposals.
Certainly they're having more success than protesters I encountered at Eimskip. Across the street, a scattering of animal rights activists had gathered with blow-up Shamus to protest Iceland's whaling commercial program, which has just resumed after a two-year hiatus.
When I walked out of the gated terminal, some of these protesters now sprawled on the grass as temperatures reached 90 on the last day of May. An occasional passing car beeped in support. Though President Grímsson may not have given their signs a glance, at least they're raising awareness, which is all you can do sometimes.