The New Bedford Fishing Heritage Center

            The Fishing Heritage Center at 38 Bethel Street, New Bedford, is just across the historic cobblestone street from the historic Whaling Museum. Under Executor Director Laura Orleans, the center is dedicated to telling the story of the fishing industry – past, present, and future – through exhibits, programs, and educational archives. Its location and presence is appropriately on the same street as the Seamen’s Bethel for whalers who went down to the ships.

            A visit to the center is a trip back in time for several centuries that could be called a tale of three cities – the first one a whaling city, then a textile manufacturing city, and finally a commercial fishing city. The occupational saga has a happy ending as being the number-one wealthiest port in the nation.

            The fishing fleet today is roughly the same size as it was during the whaling era. There are some 500 ships of local and south coast ownership residing in Fairhaven, Mattapoisett, Marion, Wareham, and Cape Cod. However, there are also an additional 2,000 boats, both visiting, fishing, and mooring from other distant ports, some as far away as Texas.

            New Bedford annually processes 145 million pounds of product with $241 million in direct sales with more than 35 seafood wholesale and processing plants. It has a total yearly economic activity of about $1 billion. The industry owes its success to its proximity to George’s Bank, an underwater shoal larger than all of Massachusetts. Before the rising seas of melting glaciers at the end of the ice age, it was part of the American mainland. Now it is a lucrative feeding ground for cod, flounder, lobster, and, especially, scallops.

            The industry attracted workers from other parts of the world, including Norway and Newfoundland, and a wave of Portuguese labor. The Portuguese especially provided the knowhow of harvesting and processing the catch, as well as efficient technological development to the fleet. 

            For the second consecutive year, Orleans has planned a ‘Seafood Soiree” in lieu of the annual working waterfront fundraiser. It is scheduled for Thursday, July 18, at the Wamsutta Club in the James Arnold Mansion. Last year, more than 150 in attendance enjoyed the bounty of the sea prepared by the best seafood gourmet chefs in our area. Cocktail hour is from 5:30 pm – 6:30 pm and will feature music by Hot Club Cheese Roll Band, sushi from Turk’s Seafood, and mini lobster rolls by Oxford Creamery, both of Mattapoisett.

            From 6:00 pm – 7:15 pm, signature seafood appetizers will be offered as well by the same chefs. From 7:30 pm to 8:30 pm, a local radio personality will auction items ranging from Red Sox tickets to a scallop dinner for four in the galley of a working vessel. A complimentary glass of champagne and a cash bar will round out the evening. For all this, tickets are just $75.

            Entry to the New Bedford Fishing Heritage Center is free of charge, and they are open Thursday -Sunday from 10:00 am – 4:00 pm. Volunteers are needed and welcome for almost all functions and activities. Call 508-993-8894 or email for information. Or, just come to help celebrate the annual recognition of our historic fishing heritage while enjoying the seafood cuisine prepared for you by gourmet chefs.

By George B. Emmons

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