Tonnage down in Duluth as shipping season draws to a close

The Paul R. Tregurtha freight ship passes into the Port of Duluth.
The Paul R. Tregurtha freight ship passes into the Port of Duluth.(Alex Laitala)
Published: Jan. 13, 2023 at 4:20 PM CST
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DULUTH, MN -- January 15 marks the official end of the Great Lakes shipping season as the Soo Locks close for routine maintenance until March 25.

Scott Bjorklund, a park ranger with the Lake Superior Maritime Museum and Army Corps of Engineers, said the port closes at the same time every year.

“Those dates are mandated by Congress,” he said, “They do all sorts of maintenance with things that are broken over the year, preventative maintenance so that when things start up again in March they’ll be able to operate again through January.”

That maintenance is vital to the health of the St. Lawrence Seaway and helps the Soo Locks stay open year-round.

As the season draws to a close, the Duluth Seaway Port Authority is reflecting on the numbers they saw in the 2022-2023 season.

“About 30 million tons total passed into this port, that will be 8% down compared to our five-year season average,” said Deb Deluca, Executive Director of the Port Authority.

The five-year average sits at around 35 million dollars.

This year the iron ore trade was relatively unchanged, but other products, like coal and grain saw a noticeable drop in tonnage across the St. Lawrence Seaway.

“In the early 2000s, we had seen 20 million tons of coal transport at this port. And now we’re seeing this year about 7 million tones,” DeLuca said.

Coal exports have been trending downward for years, as the country pushes for more green energy.

Grain, on the other hand, is a more recent issue, as the war in Ukraine has impacted supply and demand globally.

DeLuca believes those factors will even out next year.

“What we’re seeing is some modestly positive indicators, and not gonna make projections, but we’re hopeful that the tonnage will climb next year,” she said.

While tonnage was down, the port also had some highlights.

“One highlight to the season that brings in both imports and exports was the start of our maritime container trade. That was here at the Duluth Seaway Port Authority’s port and it was our first season of that. It complements our landside container terminal,” DeLuca said.

Overall, DeLuca said it was a decent year and one that’s not too far off average.

“I’d say it was a positive year, we faced a lot of challenges. And I think the total tonnage still came out pretty well, given the challenges that we faced,” she said.