PORT MANATEE -- When a worldwide-pineapple conference chose Port Tampa Bay to be the location of its second annual event this year, Port Manatee officials thought it was a natural they should attend.
Port Manatee is the only port on Florida's west coast to import pineapple, according to port officials, bringing in about 80,000 tons of the tropical fruit for client Fresh Del Monte. So it came as a surprise last week when IPO Global Pineapple Conference organizers told Port Manatee to stay home.
More disturbing is the finger of blame seems to point at the port's longtime rival and occasional business partner, Port Tampa Bay.
In an email sent last week, conference co-founder Will Cavan rejected the port's registration for the event, which opens Thursday at Port Tampa Bay and in a nearby hotel. In an email to the port, Cavan said his organization has a "one-port policy." He encouraged Port Manatee Executive Director Carlos Buqueras to apply for a refund of the port's $254 registration fee.
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That's not what Buqueras wanted to hear.
"We're waiting for them to allow us to attend," Buqueras said. "It's an opportunity to
be seen at an industry event we want to support."
In a second, but unsigned, email to Buqueras, IPO encouraged the port director to appeal its exclusion to Port of Tampa Bay CEO and President Paul Anderson. The email, which was acquired by the Bradenton Herald in accordance with Florida's Sunshine Law, states that the directive to exclude the port did not come from within the IPO.
The writer states that the organization's concern over the decision to exclude Port Manatee was expressed to Ed Miyagishima, Anderson's senior adviser.
But the writer said IPO could do no more.
"Port Tampa Bay has been a substantial sponsor with the IPO and I do not want to jeopardize the relationship with them," the email states.
Carol Whitmore, chairwoman of the Manatee County Port Authority, was more direct in assigning blame. She said a Port Tampa Bay employee likely put the kibosh on Port Manatee's attendance at the pineapple conference.
"It appears on the email that it was the Port of Tampa," Whitmore said. "I'm sure it wasn't the Tampa Port Authority."
Whitmore emailed Port Tampa Bay Commissioner Sandy Murman on Monday to tell her about the port's rejection from the conference. She also told Murman that port representatives will be at the event as originally planned.
Port Tampa Bay is not taking responsibility for the exclusion, nor will it act to rectify the situation. Miyagishima said IPO made the decision on its own, based on its one-port policy.
"It's our understanding that Port Manatee isn't the only one that has been told this," he said.
Port Tampa Bay participated in last year's IPO conference in Costa Rica. It agreed to host this year's event, despite the fact that it does not actually handle any pineapple imports.
The back-and-forth between the ports is not without precedent. The Manatee Port Authority voted late last year to resist any attempts by Port Tampa Bay to merge with Port Manatee. Marketing has also been a sore point: The two ports have squabbled over which one is closer to the Panama Canal, and Port Tampa Bay recently entered into a marketing consortium with several other ports without including Port Manatee.
Buqueras and Whitmore said they want to have a more cooperative relationship with Port Tampa Bay. But instances like this do not help, Whitmore said. She made this point in her email to Murman.
"The state does not like to see these types of issues when we are trying to work on what is best for the Tampa Bay area," she wrote.
A call seeking comment from IPO's Cavan was not returned by press deadline.
Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-945-7027, or on Twitter @MattAtBradenton.