Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway System Reports Strong 2020 Navigation Season

American and Canadian ports in the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway system reported that overall tonnage during the 2020 navigation season was down just 1.7 percent compared to the 2019 navigation season, despite facing a challenging year.

Craig H. Middlebrook, Deputy Administrator of the U.S. Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation said, “The Seaway’s 62nd navigation season was one of the most remarkable in history.  Despite all the challenges throughout the year, it was one of the safest and smoothest seasons on record. The final tonnage results continue to demonstrate the resilience of the binational waterway and its ability to remain competitive in the global marketplace.”

From its closing on December 31, 2020 to the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway on April 1, 2020, American and Canadian ports handled a total of 37.7 million metric tons (mt).


Top-performing 2020 Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway commodities

Commodity Metric Tons Handled Growth*
Grain 13,308,000 mt 27.1 percent increase*
Coal 2,439,000 mt 2.0 percent increase*
Gypsum 859,000 mt 32.8 percent increase*
Steel Slabs 503,000 mt 181.7 percent increase*
Asphalt 372,000 mt 30.9 percent increase*
*Percentages rounded to nearest tenth (compared year-over-year)


2020 Navigation Season: American Port Highlights

Throughout the unprecedented year, several ports across the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway System saw major increases in wind cargo. For example, the Port of Duluth-Superior saw an increase of 219,000 freight tons in wind cargo compared to 2019 — the port’s previous record-breaking year.

“Looking beyond the numbers, this port’s emergence as a wind cargo hub is an important win for cargo diversity and also for the expansion of renewable energy nationwide,” said Deb DeLuca, Executive Director of the Duluth Seaway Port Authority. “It’s been a difficult year under the cloud of a global pandemic, but this freight tonnage record is a much-appreciated highlight, made even better by the fact that Duluth Cargo Connect set records in consecutive seasons.”

Ian Hirt, Port Director for the Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor, was also optimistic about the uptick of wind components.

“The Port of Burns Harbor saw a total of 45 shipments of wind components, both via ship from overseas as well as domestic origins via deck barge,” said Hirt. “We also handled approximately 10 ships containing components for gas-powered electric generation stations as the U.S. Midwest shifts away from coal.”

At the Port of Cleveland, two major infrastructure programs wrapped up in 2020, including a 400-foot extension of the ore tunnel at the port’s bulk terminal and an upgrade to the main gate at the general cargo terminal.

“The upgrades completed in 2020 will lead to much more efficient handling of cargo as well as an increase in throughput capacity,” Port of Cleveland Chief Commercial Officer David S. Gutheil said. “The main gate upgrade will also reduce wait times for trucks, enabling future cargo growth and reducing emissions.”