Two ships sit berthed at the Long Beach Container Terminal at Middle Harbor at the Port of Long Beach Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2022. Photo by Brandon Richardson.

The ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles continue to see lower container volumes due to loss of market share to East and Gulf Coast ports, as well as a decline in retail factory orders and full warehouses, port officials announced Wednesday.

Both ports saw a 21% year-over-year decrease in container volumes. In Long Beach, dockworkers handled 588,742 20-foot-equivalent units (the standard measure of shipping containers), while LA moved 639,000—24% below the port’s five-year average.

The data marked the Port of Long Beach’s worst November since 2016 and the Port of LA’s worst since 2012.

The number of imports and empty containers handled at each port dropped sharply as exports rose slightly, data shows.

In August, September and October, the Port of New York-New Jersey—regularly ranked the third busiest U.S. port behind LA and Long Beach—has moved more cargo than the West Coast ports. November data has not been published for New York-New Jersey, but as of the end of October, the port had overtaken Long Beach in terms of container volumes year-to-date.

LA remains ahead of the East Coast port, but there is a chance that current trends could push it into the No. 1 spot for the year.

“While some import volume has shifted to other gateways, we are confident that a good portion of it will return to the San Pedro Bay,” Port of Long Beach Executive Director Mario Cordero said in a statement.

Port of LA Executive Director Gene Seroka echoed Cordero’s sentiment during a media briefing Wednesday afternoon. He did note, however, that historically at least some lost market share remains at its new destination.

“We’ve got work to do moving forward,” Seroka said.

Ongoing labor negotiations between West Coast dockworkers and employers continue to cast a shadow of uncertainty for shippers, executives said. Seroka said shippers will be more confident in bringing more calls back to San Pedro Bay once an agreement is reached, perhaps early next year.

The unprecedented congestion at the twin ports led some shippers to opt for other ports over the past two years. But the backlog of ships, as well as excessively high container dwell times, has been resolved.

Seroka said dwell times for cargo being moved by trucks is back to pre-pandemic levels, and cargo being moved by rail is back to normal. Cargo sitting on dock for extended periods of time has returned to an “extremely workable number,” down 90% from its peak.

As of Wednesday, 1,344 containers in Long Beach have been sitting on-dock for nine days or more, down from a peak of 30,000 on Nov. 1, 2021, according to port data.

Another factor contributing to a slow end of the year is that the two ports experienced an early peak season, which made for a bustling summer. Due to various uncertainties surrounding labor and congestion, retailers placed much larger orders earlier than usual in preparation for the holiday season, the port leaders explained.

Despite the losses and uncertainty, Seroka said LA is still expected to have its second busiest year on record, moving just under 10 million TEUs. Through November, Long Beach has moved 8,589,553 TEUs, down only 0.5% from the same period last year, which was the port’s strongest in its 111-year history.

“As we move toward normalization of the supply chain,” Cordero said, “it’s time to refocus our efforts on engaging in sustainable and transformative operations that will secure our place as a leader in trans-Pacific trade.”

Brandon Richardson is a reporter and photojournalist for the Long Beach Business Journal.