The icebreaker was last year, when the city of Gloucester made its first foray to the vast and international Seafood Expo North America at the Boston Convention Center.
The mission was simple: raise Gloucester's profile among the thousands of seafood buyers who flock to the show from just about every point on the planet and develop the kind of relationships that will thrust the city's harvesters, processors and, of course, seafood into the international mix.
The effort, both inside and outside the city, was viewed as a raging success. So, with that precedent, Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken placed a little quest in front of point man Sal Di Stefano.
"The mayor challenged us to do it even bigger and better this year," said Di Stefano, the city's director of economic development.
Toward that end, Di Stefano has amassed an armada of city resources, Gloucester-based seafood businesses, volunteers, nonprofits and assistance from Endicott College to set sail for this year's Seafood Expo North America with a more expansive plan centered on the city's seafood marketing campaign of Gloucester Fresh Seafood.
"It's a tremendous amount of work for everyone involved, but it's really exciting how the entire community has responded," Di Stefano said. "And we're the only ones doing it like this."
The city, which has budgeted $10,000 for the March 6-8 event and doubled the size of its booth, is the only Massachusetts municipality that will have a presence at the show.
In many ways, this year's strategy for elevating Gloucester's profile is built upon the successes of last year, which included the cooking and distribution of more than 40 gallons of the enormously popular redfish soup included in the Gloucester Fishermen's Wives Association's cookbook and a cooking demonstration by Romeo Theken and Fishermen's Wives President Angela Sanfillipo.
"We had people tell us last year that the soup was the best part of the show," Sanfilippo said. "Someone even said we were the only booth at the show with fresh fish."
On the Saturday before the show opens, Sanfilippo and the squadron of volunteer choppers, peelers and fish cutters assembled by Fisheries Commission Chairman Mark Ring will collect in the kitchen at Endicott College's Misselwood Conference Center in Beverly and, with help from some of Endicott's faculty and students, cook the soup that will be given out as free samples when the show opens Sunday.
Helping make it happen
The 125 pounds of redfish for the soup is being donated by Steve Connolly Seafood, the Cape Ann Seafood Exchange, and the Buyers and Sellers Exchange (BASE) at Fisherman's Wharf and reflects the high level of in-kind contributions from Gloucester seafood businesses that will make the city's $10,000 investment go even farther.
Other contributions from Gloucester-based businesses and Endicott include:
-- On late Sunday afternoon, Cape Ann Brewing Company is donating several kegs of its Fishermen's Brew and sponsoring a networking event at the Gloucester booth at the seafood show.
-- On Monday, the city is set to host seafood buyers and trade representatives from more than a dozen countries, including Canada, Turkey, Mexico, Iceland, Taiwan, Morocco, Spain, Indonesia and the Netherlands. Gorton's will provide a tour of its innovation center and the Gloucester House will fete the visitors with a luncheon and reception that will allow another round of networking for local seafood businesses.
-- The Gloucester Economic Development and Industrial Corporation is providing a matching grant of $10,000 to supplement the city's outlay.
"The EDIC is also challenging other businesses in Gloucester that if they can raise another $2,500, it will match that, as well," Di Stefano said.
-- Endicott College has been instrumental in the development of the city's Gloucester Fresh Seafood marketing campaign. Abbey Murphy, an Endicott student majoring in graphic design, has developed the logo and Assistant Dean Aileen Torrance of the college's School of Business is helping oversee the development of the marketing campaign.
With an escalating emphasis around the globe on developing sustainable fisheries with clear chains of custody for seafood, the city wants to show the world that Gloucester seafood provides all the benefits and meets all the requirements of a sustainable fishery.
"We have safe, fresh seafood here," Sanfilippo said. "We fish under the tightest restrictions in the world and you know where it's coming from."
Various other Gloucester-based companies will contribute their products to be included in VIP gift bags for the touring delegation and others.
"Based on last year, we know there's a great deal of interest in meeting with Gloucester companies and the city of Gloucester," said Patrick J. Bench, the president of Benchmark Strategies and a consultant working with the city on its Seafood Expo North America strategy.
The heart of that strategy is providing a platform for Gloucester companies to spread their stories throughout the seafood-buying world. In other words, networking.
With that in mind, the city this year will provide meeting space at its Seafood Expo North America booth that local seafood companies may reserve to meet with buyers and trade representatives from around the world. The city will even provide the local businesses with a free ticket to the show if they want to take advantage of the opportunity.
"Not only can they connect with them in Gloucester," Di Stefano said. "This way, we're also giving them a way to meet with them at the show."
The strategy, according to Sanfilippo, also reflects the city's tenacity in the face of the ongoing fishing crisis.
"We want them to know we still exist and we're not going anywhere," she said.
Contact Sean Horgan at 978-675-2714, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @SeanGDT