Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway System Sees Strong May in Coordination with a Rebounding American Economy

Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway System Sees Strong May in Coordination with a Rebounding American Economy

Iron ore continues its steady climb over 2020 numbers

Photo by Scott Bjorklund


Washington, D.C. (June 16, 2021) – The Great Lakes Seaway Partnership today reported that American and Canadian ports in the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway System handled over 1.4 million tons of iron ore from the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway on March 22, 2021 through May 31, 2021, a 7.01 percent increase compared to shipments through May last year.

Craig H. Middlebrook, Deputy Administrator of the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation said, “Generally, we are seeing increasing efficiencies in the Great Lakes Seaway System, with vessels remaining in the system longer and stopping at multiple ports to load and discharge cargo.  Many of our Great Lakes ports are handling a more diversified mix of cargo, reflective of what is happening in the economy, and particularly notable for commodities utilized by the manufacturing sector.”

Through May, all cargo shipped through the St. Lawrence Seaway reached 8,153,000 metric tons, down only .59 percent compared to shipments during the same time in 2020.

To learn more about iron ore movement and the steel supply chain in the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence region, watch the first installment of The Great Lakes Seaway Partnership’s American Anchor series.


2021 Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway Key Performance Indicators**
2020 2021 Change (+/-)
Total Transits* 828 835 + 0.85%
Total Cargo* 8,153,000 mt 8,104,000 mt -0.59%
*Combined U.S. and Canadian traffic

**All data is compared year-over-year (2020: Shipments from April 1 to April 30, 2020) (2021: Shipments from March 22 to April 30, 2021)



2021 Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway Key Commodity Trackers***
2020 2021 Change (+/-)**
Grain* 2,509,000 mt 2,407,000 mt – 4.05%
Iron Ore* 1,330,000 mt 1,423,000 mt + 7.01%
Coal* 466,000 mt 466,000 mt + 0.06%
Gypsum* 139,000 mt 221,000 mt + 59.31%
Asphalt* 22,000 mt 63,000 mt + 192.18%
*Combined U.S. and Canadian traffic

**Percentages rounded to nearest tenth

***All data is compared year-over-year (2020: Shipments from April 1, to April 30, 2020) (2021: Shipments from March 22 to April 30, 2021)


American Great Lakes Ports Speak to Strong Month of May for the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway Navigation Season

Port of Duluth-Superior


Topping 3.2 million short tons for the second consecutive month, total maritime tonnage through the Port of Duluth-Superior continued its robust climb in May 2021.


Almost every major cargo category finished the month ahead of its five-season average tonnage, led by cement, which arrived at a pace more than triple its average through May. Coal and coke (+6.9 percent), iron ore (+6.3 percent) and limestone (+5.4 percent) also outpaced their respective five-season averages. The port’s total float through May 31 (7.5 million short tons) exceeded the five-season average by 5.9 percent; it topped the pandemic-plagued 2020 pace by nearly 40 percent.


In terms of vessel arrivals, the Port of Duluth-Superior finished May at 162 in total, a figure that topped the 2020 pace by 31. Most notably in May, the port welcomed 10 overseas vessels – twice as many as it welcomed in May 2020. That total included the port’s first heavy-lift general cargo arrivals of the season at the Clure Public Marine Terminal.


“Since 2016, May tonnage through Duluth-Superior is typically near 4 million short tons, with 2020 being the obvious outlier at only 2.5 million,” said Duluth Seaway Port Authority Executive Director Deb DeLuca. “The May 2021 figure – almost 3.3 million short tons – signals a significant rebound from those COVID-induced lows of last year, and hopefully a harbinger of continued post-pandemic economic recovery.”



Port of Toledo


The Port of Toledo had a very good month in May up over 20% over the same period in 2020.  “We saw an uptick in our usual commodities like coal, grain, and iron ore coupled with overseas exports of products like petroleum coke and distillers dry grains.  We also received and unloaded our new Liebherr 550 mobile harbor crane in May shipped from Liebherr’s factory at the Port of Rostock,” said Joe Cappel, VP of Business Development for the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority.  “The new crane is currently being assembled and will soon be ready to be put to work at our general cargo facility operated by Midwest Terminals.  The crane is fitted with various attachments for handling all types of products and, with a massive lift capacity, will greatly improve our efficiency for loading and unloading vessels.”


About the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway System


The Great Lakes-Seaway System serves a dynamic economic region that includes eight U.S. states and two Canadian provinces. If the region were a country, it would have the 3rd largest economy in the world with a GDP of $5.5 trillion – larger than that of Japan, Germany, Brazil, or the United Kingdom. The region is home to 107 million people and accounts for almost 40 percent of the total cross-border trade between the U.S. and Canada.


Great Lakes-Seaway shipping is a foundation of this vibrant economy. More than 160 million metric tons of commercial cargo are transported on the waterway each year, providing low-cost and efficient transportation for the region’s manufacturing, mining, agriculture, and energy sectors.

Great Lakes-Seaway maritime commerce lifts the American and Canadian economies on an annual basis by supporting:


  • 237,868 jobs
  • $35 billion in economic activity
  • $14.2 billion in personal income and local consumption expenditures
  • $6.6 billion in federal, state/provincial, and local tax revenue


About the Great Lakes Seaway Partnership

The Great Lakes Seaway Partnership is a coalition of leading US and Canadian maritime organizations working to enhance public understanding of the benefits of commercial shipping in the Great Lakes Seaway region of North America. The organization manages an education-focused communications program, sponsors research and works closely with media, policy makers, community groups, allied industries, environmental stakeholders and the general public to highlight the positive attributes of marine transportation.


For more information, please visit