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Big seafood show in Boston postponed over coronavirus fears

The Seafood Expo North America was due to draw some 18,000 attendees

A tracking tag was attached to a bin of clams in Red's Best at the Boston Fish Pier on Jan. 9.
A tracking tag was attached to a bin of clams in Red's Best at the Boston Fish Pier on Jan. 9.Blake Nissen/The Boston Globe

The Seafood Expo North America, one of the biggest trade shows in Boston, has been postponed due to concerns over the spread of coronavirus. The event, scheduled for March 15-17, was expected to draw some 18,000 attendees to the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center.

In an announcement on its website, the show’s organizer, Diversified Communications, of Portland, Maine, said that “feedback we received among hundreds of calls and e-mails” led to the decision.

“This decision has been difficult because of the major importance of this event to the industry,'' the announcement said, adding "given the short time before the scheduled event date, and upcoming logistics, we have determined that postponement at this time is unavoidable.”

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The company said it would try to reschedule the expo for sometime this year. Several organizations representing scallopers and lobstermen called on the company to offer the option of completely refunding their payments or crediting the amount toward next year’s show. As of now, Diversified still plans to carry on with the European edition of Seafood Expo in Brussels in late April.

Diversified did not return a request seeking comment.

News of the postponement comes a day after Nate Little, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority, said that trade show organizers had expressed no reservations about holding their upcoming events in Boston, despite the global spread of coronavirus.

On Tuesday, the authority conceded that the decision to shutter the show “creates a significant financial loss for the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority … our vendors and contractors, hotel and restaurant partners, and thousands of tradeshow and hospitality workers who participate in putting on a show of this magnitude.”

The pressure to cancel the convention was building early this week. The seafood industry trade journal IntraFish reported that giant retail chains Kroger and Costco had decided to skip the show. In addition, a pair of New England fisheries groups — the American Scallop Association and the Maine Certified Sustainable Lobster Association — sent a letter to Diversified Communications urging that the show be canceled.

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“We were certainly concerned and wanted to do what was the right thing to do and the safe thing to do," said Daniel McQuade, vice president of marketing at Raw Seafoods of Fall River, one of the companies that called for canceling the show. McQuade said the show attracted visitors from around the world, including China, where the epidemic originated.

Moreover, McQuade said, “many of the customers we intended to meet at the show were canceling as well.”

Dan Eilertsen, owner of Nordic Inc. of New Bedford, which operates scallop boats, was disappointed by the decision. But he added, “I guess it doesn’t surprise me. Maybe it was the right thing to do.”

The next major gathering scheduled for Boston, New England Cannabis Convention on March 20, remains on schedule, according to one of its organizers. Marc Shepard, president of the New England Cannabis Network, said that unlike other conventions that attract attendees from far away, the pot gathering expects more than 90 percent of its estimated 20,000 attendees are based locally.

So far, no vendors have expressed any concerns about coronavirus, though Shepard said he wouldn't be surprised if a handful of West Coast vendors end up deciding not to come.

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“Three weeks is a long time,” he said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Meanwhile, coronavirus claimed yet another trade show victim in Silicon Valley. On Tuesday, Google said it would cancel I/O, the search giant’s annual conference for software developers. The conference in Mountain View, Calif. had been expected to draw about 7.000 visitors.

Felicia Gans of the Globe Staff contributed to this story.


Hiawatha Bray can be reached at hiawatha.bray@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeTechLab.