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March 18th 2019

Snail caviar: of all the strange and wonderful products on show at the Boston seafood expo, snail caviar has to be the most bizarre.

The stall promoting this extraordinary product was staffed by a woman from Maine with no backboards or fancy stand, just a few tins of this very expensive product and some leaflets. She was looking for distributors: I hope she found some. Anybody who takes the trouble to extract eggs one by one with a pair of tweezers deserves a break sometime.

Many of the visitors to SENA - Seafood Expo North America - won't find the Maine snail stall simply because the event is so huge. About 20,000 people descend on the Massachusetts Convention Center for this annual seafood jamboree yet it doesn't feel crowded because the hall is so vast. It is, apparently, 4.8 hectares big, or 516,000 square feet, as they prefer to say over here. It really feels as if you could park a jumbo jet and then pack in a few smaller aircraft too.

Some countries and regions have stands, others have massive pavilions which reflect the weight of their seafood output. The Canadian pavilion seems to dwarf all the others but that might be deceptive: Chinese companies seem to be everywhere, pavilion or not. Scotland has something that falls between a very big stand and a small pavilion. Salmon producers Wester Ross Salmon and the Scottish Salmon Company have stands within the Scottish enclave which they share with processors, smokers and the caught fish teams too. The Scottish area has a demonstration cookery spot too and a big pan of Cullen Skink produced on the first morning of the show was enough to bring people from all over the hall to try this particularly Scottish soup.

There is a section in the hall devoted to technology with water purifiers rubbing shoulders with packaging companies but, really, this is an event for the buyers and distributors. Groups of buyers and sellers from all over the world gather in small groups on every usable space that isn't taken up with seafood stands.

It is not easy, however, to keep all stalls looking good. One stallholder near the entrance used an ice sculpture of a shell as his centrepiece: But I presume he had the foresight to bring three, one for each day, as I'm not sure a pool of water would work nearly as well at attracting buyers. Others use more rudimentary ways of keeping everything looking good. It's not uncommon to see stallholders open up their display cabinets and spray their fish with a film of water several times a day.

Whatever happens inside the hall, Boston certainly revels in the trade the show brings to the city. It can, though, lead to the odd confusion. One chef at a noted seafood restaurant felt compelled to come out and talk to a group of diners after one particular after-show meal last year. He wanted to know what was wrong. Fourteen people had dined in his seafood restaurant and not one had ordered fish. He was told that, if he had spent the last three days surrounded by, immersed in and sampling every manner of seafood from all over the world, he might choose the steak too.

Hamish MacDonell is the SSPO's Director of Strategic Engagement