New Bedford, America’s Largest Commercial Fishing Port, Hosts the 5th Working Waterfront Festival, a Celebration of Commercial Fishing Culture

Rounding out a busy season of city festivals, the Working Waterfront Festival brings together in a very literal sense both the creative and the economic aspects of the city’s “Creative Economy”. The festival represents the seafood and fishing industry and the varied arts and culture of a seaport steeped in history and tradition.
More than simply a celebration, the Working Waterfront Festival is a unique opportunity for the public to get a firsthand look at the culture of fishing and for the commercial fishing community to tell its own story. The event presents all that goes into bringing seafood from the ocean to the table in a way that is hands-on, educational and fun. We encourage you to listen and watch, but also to taste, touch and converse.
Festival programming will explore the connections between working ports, the interconnectedness of ports and their larger communities and efforts to preserve working waterfronts around the country. For the past four years, the festival has worked to educate the public about the rich culture of commercial fishing. This year’s event will help visitors understand their connections to the industry and their role in ensuring its future.
The Festival brings together a unique array of music presented on three stages. Performances include traditional sea chanteys, music reflecting the industry’s ethnic diversity, and music about commercial fishing often performed by musicians who work in the industry. Festival visitors will have a rare opportunity to hear authentic work songs performed by The Northern Neck Chantey Singers, a group of retired African-American menhaden fishermen who once sung these songs to keep time as they hauled nets on the shores of Virginia. On the other end of the spectrum, Sharks Come Cruisin’ a Providence-based band electrifies traditional chanteys in a sound that has been compared to the Pogues, the Drop Kick Murphys and Great Big Sea. Festival favorites, the Souls of the Sea, a Gloucester based folk-rock trio will perform original music about commercial fishing. Much of the music reflects the cultural diversity of the commercial fishing industry. Performers include Norwegian Folk Music & Dance presented by musicians and dancers who hail from the southwest coast of Norway, Magnolia (presenting Cajun music with a nod to the Gulf Coast fishing community), Italian musicians Fabio Pirozzolo and Roberto Cassan (a tribute to Gloucester’s Italian fishing community), Portuguese Fado music with Ana Vinagre and traditional Cape Verdean music and dance (honoring the contributions of Cape Verdean longshoremen) presented by Joao Cerilu and Pilon Batuku. Several performers who write from personal experience working in the industry are also on tap for the weekend including Michael Troy and Jon Campbell and both will be part of Something Fishy, a song/poetry swap of material created and performed by fishermen. Also included in this group are fisherpoet Dave Densmore of Kodiak, AK and Smith Island crab picker Janice Marshall who writes “crabby parodies”. The line up also includes local favorites Tesseract, the Beans, TLC and the New Bedford Sea Chantey Chorus. Fans of the accordion will enjoy workshops showcasing accordions and concertinas from various cultural traditions and a vocal workshop will present fishing songs from around the world.


The Oxford Creamery serves a full menu of the finest local seafood including fish and chips, fried scallops, lobster rolls and quahog chowder. The full menu will be available at the Dining Tent on Pier 3 while a Food Court with chowder and other light fare will be offered on Steamship Pier. Other food vendors this year include: Café Arpeggio serving its own Home Made Ice Cream, Ray’s Kettle Corn, Del’s Lemonade and The Wicked Mermaid offering coffee, juice and baked goods.


The Foodways Area (Pier 3) features cooking demonstrations by galley cooks, ethnic cooks and celebrity chefs. Here visitors are invited to learn the basics of preparing fresh seafood at home as well as ethnic approaches to seafood cooking and galley fare. Highlights this year are the appearance of food writer Molly O’Neill and the preparation of Smith Island Cake (a ten layer chocolate cake which is the official dessert of the state of Maryland) prepared by Smith Island native and crab picker Janice Marshall.
The Dock-U-Mentaries Film Tent (Pier 3) will screen historic and contemporary footage taken at sea and on shore, chronicling the history and experiences of the working waterfront and the commercial fishing industry. Many presentations will feature live narration by fishermen, filmmakers and others. Several short documentary films will also be shown.
Our Narrative Stage (Pier 3) brings the stories of the fishing industry to life with interactive panel discussions. Many of this year’s topics reflect the festival theme including: Pulse of the Ports, Fishing Communities: A Global Perspective, and Fishing Communities: A Cultural Mosaic. With fishermen participating from Kodiak, Alaska to Portland, Maine, once each day a panel called A Fishery in Every Port will invite fishermen from various fisheries to talk about their work. These discussions are recorded and archived as part of our ongoing Working Waterfront Documentation Project.
A number of well-known authors read from and sign their books on commercial fishing, the maritime environment and other related topics. Independent bookseller, Baker Books operates an on-site Festival Bookstore (located adjacent to the Narrative Stage on Pier 3) hosting author signings and selling titles of participating authors. See the author section of this guide for descriptions of this year’s featured authors and their books.


Contests offer a unique opportunity to watch those who work in the commercial fishing industry show off the skills of their trade. All contests will take place on the Contest Stage (located at Steamship Pier). This stage will also be the site for presentations featuring the latest in safety related gear and demonstrating the “tools of the trade” associated with various types of inshore fishing and both inshore and off-shore lobstering. This year’s contests will include: Scallop Shucking, Fish Filleting, Net Mending, Link Squeezing, Splicing and Survival Suit Races. In addition, visitors can watch whaleboat races and a tugboat muster from the On Water Activities Viewing Area at the head of State Pier. Learn first hand about historic and contemporary skills of the industry by visiting the industry skills demonstration booths (Steamship Pier) including: barrel making, net making, knot tying, rigging, scallop dredge making, inshore fishing and more.
Through a partnership between SMAST (School for Marine Science and Technology, UMass Dartmouth), MA Division of Marine Fisheries and Marine Institute (Newfoundland) festival visitors will be able to see an underwater simulation of how fishing gear works. A 750 gallon flume tank will be set up on Steamship Pier. Local net designer Tor Bendiksen of Reidars Manufacturing has created model nets for use in the tank.
Vessel Tours
Don’t miss the opportunity to learn about the different types of fishing vessels first-hand by getting on board one or more of the vessels offering dockside tours and talking with the crew. A trawler, a deep sea clammer and a scalloper will be berthed on Pier 3.
Harbor Tours
Whaling City Expeditions offers 55-minute harbor tours departing hourly on both Saturday and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m.
Walking Tours
Trail maps for a Self-Guided Dock Walk are available at the Waterfront Visitor Center.
The U.S. Coast Guard presents a number of activities from their location at State Pier. A Coast Guard lifeboat (south side of Pier 3) and cutter (south side of State Pier) are available for dockside tours both Saturday and Sunday. Operations permitting, a coast guard helicopter will land on State Pier and the flight crew will be on hand to answer questions. And don’t miss the helicopter basket rescue presented on both days of the festival (best viewed from the head of State Pier). Please visit the Coast Guard booth located at Coast Guard Park.


Whaleboat Races – The Buzzards Bay Rowing Club presents whaleboat races from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Saturday, September 27th. Come cheer on your favorite team. Best viewing: head of State Pier.
Whaleboat Rides – Try your hand at rowing a replica whaleboat. Buzzards Bay rowers will be on hand to provide instruction at Tonnessen Park on Saturday from 2-4 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and again from 3-5 p.m.
Tugboat Muster – Watch tugboats at work as they compete for bragging rights in hawser tossing and pushing contests, Saturday from 3-5 p.m. Best viewing: head of State Pier.
Coast Guard Demos (see above)
Harbor Tours (see above)
Blessing of the Fleet (see below)
On Sunday, September 28th the 38th Annual Blessing of the Fleet takes place on State Pier beginning at 1:00 p.m. A time-honored tradition, the Blessing gives the fishing community an opportunity to celebrate and reflect on the successes of the past year and to ask that the Lord’s good blessing continue in the following year to keep each vessel and its crew safe during each voyage.
Be sure to visit the Kid’s Activity Tent located on Steamship Pier for a boatload of make and take art activities Saturday and Sunday from 11 to 5 including fish prints, shell decorating, paper boat making and more. Hands-on marine and fisheries science activities are presented by the Ocean Explorium’s WOW Mobile and SMAST, the School for Marine Science and Technology at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth (Steamship Pier). Storytellers Jackson Gillman and Karen Chace will perform in the Kid’s Area and children’s author/illustrator Timothy Basil Ering will read from his book Necks Out for Adventure.
A number of industry related non profit organizations and businesses will have booths at this year’s festival (a complete list is available at the end of the program guide). And don’t miss the Maritime Artisans Marketplace featuring unique handcrafted work by regional artists.
Be sure to visit A Working Waterfront, a permanent exhibit on display in the Waterfront Visitor Center on Pier 3. For forty years, the Wharfinger building was the site of the city’s seafood auction. Today, in addition to welcoming visitors, the building houses a mini-museum commemorating the seafood auction and the City’s role in the history of the commercial fishing industry. The exhibit was created through a joint effort of the City of New Bedford, the National Park Service and the fishing industry.
The Working Waterfront Festival is supported by a diverse coalition of individuals, businesses and educational and cultural organizations. Producing Partners of the 2008 Festival are National Endowment for the Arts, Island Foundation and Whaling City Seafood Display Auction. Major support is also provided by The City of New Bedford, Harbor Development Commission, United States Coast Guard, New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park, National Council for the Traditional Arts and Massachusetts Cultural Council. The Festival is a project of the Community Economic Development Center of Southeastern, Massachusetts.
The Working Waterfront Festival is a project of the Community Economic Development Center of Southeastern MA, a non-profit organization. The FREE festival, a family friendly, educational celebration of New England’s commercial fishing industry, features live maritime and ethnic music, fishermen’s contests, fresh seafood, vessel tours, author readings, cooking demonstrations, kid’s activities and more. It all takes place in New Bedford, MA, America’s #1 fishing port, on the fourth full weekend of September. Navigate to us at

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