Brussels update: Seafood Expo Global a go; US execs speak out

Seafood Expo Global/Seafood Processing Global will open as scheduled on 26 April.

Show organizer Diversified Communications, which is based in Portland, Maine, USA, announced its decision on the expo website following the terrorists attacks in Brussels, the expo’s host city, on Tuesday, 22 March. [Note: Diversified Communications also owns].

“The show is scheduled to happen – we do not have plans to cancel the event,” said Liz Plizga, group vice president for Diversified, in an interview with SeafoodSource.

In the days following the attacks, Diversified talked to many Seafood Expo Global exhibitors and attendees about their concerns, updating them about the latest security measures planned for the event, which willtake place 26 to 28 April.

“Safety is our primary concern. We are working around the clock to strengthen measures at the expo and throughout the city, including coordinating with the authorities in Belgium and the city of Brussels to make security for the event is as strong and comprehensive as possible,” Plizga said.

While some companies are reconsidering their plans to travel to Brussels for the show, Diversified has received very few formal cancellation requests, she said.

“We’ve received a broad range of responses and feedback given it’s such an emotional and developing issue,” Plizga said. “We’ve heard from many companies who are supportive of the event and the decision to continue on with it for this year, and many of those we’ve spoken to have inquired into our security measures. Although we have heard from others who are more concerned, we haven’t seen substantial cancellations come through as of yet.”

Plizga said the show’s “critically important” role for many businesses was a key factor in the decision to go on with the show.

“The event serves as a very important tool for our customers to strengthen their business relationships. The continuity of business is essential to the industry and it’s important that we maintain Seafood Expo Global and Seafood Processing Global as the annual venues where suppliers and buyers can network,” Plizga said. “Right now, our goal remains ensuring a successful event for all participants.”

Diversified is working closely with local authorities in Brussels to maximize the security of the event, Plizga said. The company has been working with local authorities to update and augment its security plan and has additional measures put in place such as attendee metal detector screening, bag restrictions and bag screening. In addition, the city of Brussels and the Brussels Expo is organizing a network of private shuttles to move expo attendees throughout the city, similar to what was in place at the 2015 show, when a labor strike shut down public transportation systems.

“Our entire staff is working tirelessly for our main priority, our customers, and we are working on every aspect of this event to ensure its success and the safety of its participants,” Plizga said.

Four American seafood executives reached for comment Friday, 25 March all said they still planned on attending Seafood Expo Global. Several other executives, including those representing international companies, were not available due to the Easter holiday.

Colleen Coyne, seafood program coordinator at Food Export USA, a nonprofit promotional board for U.S. agricultural products and processed food, said her organization had made a decision to attend.

“Our plans haven’t changed: We still intend to participate,” Coyne said.

Tom Sunderland, vice president of Marketing at Ocean Beauty, a seafood processor and distributor based in Seattle, Wash., said nine employees will be attending the show as planned.

“It’s a decision that went all the way to the top of the company,” Sunderland said. “Ultimately, we decided it was important for the company that we have a presence in Brussels. We asked our individuals scheduled for the trip to see if they still wanted to go, and all said yes.”

Sunderland has heard rumors of other companies reconsidering their attendance but he said he hoped they decide against withdrawing.

“Fortunately, there’s time for people to give it some time, think about it and not make a decision in the heat of the moment,” he said. “The Brussels show is critical – in some ways, now more than ever, because it’s tough times in the fish business out there. Our concern is that people we have meetings with and our customers are going to be spooked and not attend. I’m hopeful that attendance isn’t affected too much. Nobody knows better than fishermen we all share risks, it’s just a matter of what sort of risk is acceptable and necessary to do business. To us, this seems like an acceptable risk, as we have faith that the European and Belgian authorities are going to do everything possible to ensure the city is safe.”

Tom Leissl, CEO of seafood procurement specialist Blu Arctic, worked in New York City during the 9/11 attacks, which he said informed his decision to attend SEG this year.

“I’ve realized, you cannot run away from this,” he said. “I won’t let people who commit these crimes dictate my plans and my life.”

Alex Babadzhanov, the general manager of Seattle-based seafood wholesaler SOGDA Limited, said many in his company’s team of 11 planning to attend SEG had second thoughts following the attacks.

“We did a careful evaluation, and unfortunate as the situation is, we decided the security has been significantly heightened in Brussels, so it’s probably never safer to go there than now,” he said.

Babadzhanov said the company is allowing each of its employees to “make their best judgment” about going, but that he will be attending.

“There’s a risk every day for businesspeople who get on planes and travel to events,” he said. “Unfortunately, that’s now just a part of the world we live in.”


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