Port of L.A. seafood shipment delays to continue

While an ongoing labor dispute at the Port of Los Angeles is on the path to being settled, seafood importers’ woes are far from over.

“The estimate on the backlog being cleared up is three months, according to the Port of Los Angeles director. The seafood containers really aren’t processed a whole lot faster than anyone else’s containers,” Roger Clarke, owner of Wilmington, Calif.-based customs broker and freight forwarder Williams Clarke Co., which works with several U.S. seafood importers.

Full operations resumed at the Los Angeles port last weekend after the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents employers, came to a tentative agreement on a new five-year labor contract. The union must still ratify the contract.

Similar to Clarke, Jeff Stern, VP of purchasing for Central Seaway Co., an importer in Northfield, Ill., believes that it will take 30 to 90 days before the backlog in seafood containers is cleared up.

“The steamship lines, of course, are saying it will be better but we don’t believe it,” Stern said. “There are so many vessels that are there and they just can’t seem to get caught up. More boats keep arriving, and they have got to work through the backlog,” Stern said.

Central Seaway has experienced delays in frozen seafood shipments for several months, including containers that just went into cold storage in late February that were supposed to be in storage last November.

Since last fall, a perfect storm of congestion surcharges, trucker strikes and shipping carriers’ policy changes are delaying seafood importers’ cargo at the Port of Los Angeles and hiking their shipping costs. And many of those problems are still in play.

“There is still a chasse shortage, and then we have a situation with the backlog of truckers. The California Highway Patrol says trucks can’t sit outside the gates of the port,” Clarke said.

Because of the delay in seafood containers at the Port of Los Angeles, Central Seaway and other importers have had to funnel their cargo to other ports.
“We have been forced to sometimes ship to West Coast customers from East Coast inventories,” Stern said. “It is more expensive, but we have managed to keep almost all of our customers supplied.”

Switching to other ports raises seafood importers costs and is not a lasting solution.

“A lot of them [importers] have shifted to diverting cargo at other ports, including Houston, Miami and East Coast ports. However, those ports are getting congested too,” Clarke said.


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