By Don Cuddy
NEW BEDFORD — The weather cooperated and the crowds flocked to the New Bedford waterfront on Sunday for the second and final day of the annual Working Waterfront Festival. This popular event allows shore dwellers a rare glimpse into the world of the commercial fisherman and the inner workings of a complex industry that, year after year, makes New Bedford the number one fishing port in the United States, measured by the value of its seafood landings.
Organizers declared they were pleased both by the numbers in attendance and the overall response from the public to the industry outreach.
“In some ways it’s been the best festival that we’ve done. And the most important,” said Laura Orleans who co-directs the festival with Fairhaven’s Kirsten Bendiksen. “‘All in One Boat’ was our theme this year and the combination of bringing together different cultures and hearing people from different parts of the industry talk about the challenges they are facing made it really powerful.”
There was music, poetry and food on the city piers along with activities for children, cooking demonstrations, films, ethnic arts, whaleboat rides and the annual Blessing of the Fleet ceremony.
A narrative stage allowed fishermen to put forth their case for a loosening of what they regard as overly restrictive catch limits. “There are more fish out there now than there has been since 1974,” said Laura Foley Ramsden of Foley Fish, a processor in New Bedford and Boston.
On Saturday, Carlos Rafael, who owns the biggest fleet in New Bedford — 40 fishing vessels — delivered the same message.
“If they don’t give us more fish, I promise you that in 10 years we’ll be catching Georges Bank yellowtail at Fort Rodman because the fish are going to come to the coast,” he said.
Dockside boat tours proved a big attraction, with dozens of people clambering aboard working vessels such as the scalloper Alaska and the Mariette, a clam boat tied up on Fisherman’s Wharf.
“There have been a lot of questions, intelligent questions,” said Mariette’s owner and captain Al Lagace. “It’s been really great.”
Dan Nepstad from Woods Hole, making his first visit to the festival, was enjoying a plate of red crab claws. “My wife saw a poster in a bakery in Woods Hole this morning so we came up,” he said.
New at this year’s festival was a Seafood Throwdown featuring two local chefs who vied to create a winning dish using a surprise seafood ingredient, whiting, and local produce. An overflow crowd packed the food tent to watch the contest.
“I made a Portuguese-style stew with tomatoes, peppers and wine. I poached the fish in it and served it with couscous,” said Mike Melo of the M&C Cafe. Henry Bosquet, who teaches at Greater New Bedford Regional Vocational-Technical High School and cooks at the Ice Chest, served the whiting whole with a scallop appetizer. Judges could not reach a verdict and declared a tie.
Those wanting their own ingredients could buy fresh seafood right on the pier. “We’ve sold a lot of shrimp and scallops today,” said Mike Walsh, who was manning the Fleet Fisheries stand. “They leave the bags on ice and pick them up on the way home.”
There was enough going on to impress Sid Rosenweig, a visitor from Rochester, N.Y.
“I came down to Rhode Island this weekend for a wedding and discovered this. It’s a unique event and I’m having a lot of fun,” he said.
September 27, 2010 12:00 AM