'Voices from the Waterfront' Book Recounts Oral Histories of Fishing Industry Figures

By Don Cuddy
A new book designed to provide its readers with a window into New Bedford’s complex and colorful fishing industry was released Jan. 14.
Titled “Voices from the Waterfront,” the book is just that — allowing 40 people, who derive their livelihoods from a business that annually contributes $5.5 billion to the New England economy, to tell their stories in their own words.
Subtitled “Portrait of the New Bedford Fishing Industry,” the book was produced as a collaborative effort between Laura Orleans and Kirsten Bendiksen, co-founders of the annual Working Waterfront Festival in New Bedford, and Connecticut’s Mark Starr, a professional photographer who has previously produced photo books on the commercial fishermen of Point Judith.
The personal narratives, each one a page in length, are accompanied by luminous black and white photographs of the subjects.
“This book is a continuation of what we wanted to do when we started the festival,” Orleans said. “We hope that the stories in it will educate people about the waterfront while also celebrating and documenting the fishing industry.”
For the past six years, festival organizers have been collecting oral histories from a variety of people whose lives are bound up with fishing and the sea. Fishermen, boat captains and owners, gear manufacturers and fisheries scientists, shoreside businesses, fuel and ice suppliers as well as those who process and sell the catch are all represented.
“Over the years we collected more than 90 individual histories,” Bendiksen said. “We’re very pleased with how this book came out. I think it honors fishermen both past and present. It represents a good start. But there is so much more material that we might need a second edition.”
The impetus for the book came when Starr visited New Bedford for the festival and approached the two women with a proposal to create a book.
“In Point Judith, the fishing fleet is disappearing and a working culture is disappearing with it,” he said. “I started going out with them on trips and I found out that they all had unique stories. People really are fascinating and I just love that.”
The photographs, all digital, were produced in black and white for a reason, Starr said. “They have a timeless quality that way,” he said. “A lot of the fishermen I met when I was doing my previous books had black and white photos of their fathers or grandfathers fishing,” he said. “I think shooting it this way makes it part of the historical continuum.”
The stories included in the book were culled from long hours reading transcripts of interviews, Orleans said.
“The stories were all collected locally but there is so much in them that is universal. I think Mark’s photos show a wonderful ability to capture the people. We are very pleased that the book is now complete and we’re excited to get it out to the world. I’ve already received an order from Astoria, Oregon.”
The book is available for $20 from Baker Books in Dartmouth, the Ocean Explorium and the national park visitors’ center in New Bedford, the Euro-Phoenix Store in Fairhaven, Partners Village Store in Westport, and online at http://www.workingwaterfrontfestival.org
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