Main Hall

From Boat to Table
Using objects, text, photographs, audio, and video, this interactive exhibit allows visitors to learn about all aspects of the seafood industry. Each section of the exhibit includes a look at changes over time with historical artifacts that speak to “Back when”.

Gearing Up presents the shoreside work involved in getting a vessel ready for fishing from vessel construction and the design and manufacture of nets and dredges to taking on fuel, ice, and provisions. Visitors can try mending a section of net and develop a grub list – a shopping list to feed their crew.

At Sea explores daily life aboard a fishing vessel including all aspects of the work, the use of technology for navigation and communication, and the importance of safety, as well as the experience of cooking, eating, and sleeping at sea. A wheelhouse creates a sense of shipboard life. A dress up area allows visitors to don fisherman’s clothing.

Sustaining the Resource provides an overview of industry efforts to ensure a healthy and plentiful resource including cooperative research which combines skills and knowledge of fishermen and scientists, advancements in technology, and gear modifications to allow for greater selectivity and reduced by-catch.

Landing the Catch follows the seafood from fish hold to auction, to processing plant, and finally to market. A seafood recipe exchange collects and disseminates community recipes. Settlement sheets from the 1960s and today illustrate changing economics.

The Fish News allows visitors to listen a broadcast by local radio personality Bill Brennan.  For over 20 years, Fish News was a vital link between sea and shore.  Listen to excerpts from a 1983 broadcast and browse our library of commercial fishing books and current and back issues of industry trade papers.


Some Things Fishy
July 11, 2019 – September 1, 2019

Inspired by a visit to a tiny island off the coast of Nova Scotia some forty years ago, Fairhaven artist Paul Helgesen’s work is a mixture of whimsy and realism, some of it serious, some of it ridiculous, and most of it nautical.  Pieces are created from rough sawn lumber and augmented with found pieces of copper, brass, rusted steel, and shells.

Eventually Paul and his wife bought a summer home on the island and a fishing boat.  He says, “life on the island is like going back in time.  The year-round residents are lobstermen who live in a tiny community with their boats, dirt roads, a two-room school house, and a little ferry that goes to and from the mainland. This way of life is my inspiration for Some Things Fishy.”

Helgesen has been involved in the arts all his life.  His parents were practicing artists, and were both graduates of the Rhode Island School of Design.  He was Design Director for the Pfalzgraff Dinnerware Company for many years, collaborating with the Museum of American Folk Art in New York City to design the “America” dinnerware collection.  He and his wife are avid collectors of antiques including furniture, toy cars, folk art, and Jugtown pottery.


F/V Innovation

September 12, 2019 – March 2020

F/V Innovation, a new exhibit exploring the evolution of vessels and gear and paying tribute to some of the individuals whose innovations propelled the industry into the modern era will open on the September 12th AHA night and will remain on display in the Center’s gallery through March of 2020.

The City of New Bedford has a long history of maritime innovators.  Perhaps most notable is blacksmith Lewis Temple who developed the Toggle Iron in 1848, a harpoon that revolutionized the whaling industry. In the years since, there have been many who have made their mark on the working waterfront including some who hold patents for their inventions.  F/V Innovation will feature Dan Mullins, known as the father of the modern fishing industry; Hathaway Machine Co., which produced essential fishing gear including the Hathaway winch; and the F/V Narragansett, America’s first stern trawler as well as lesser known innovators whose contributions helped to make fishing safer, easier, more profitable, and more sustainable.

The Center is working with teacher and curriculum developer Tove Bendiksen to develop standards-based curriculum materials and looks forward to welcoming school groups from mid-September through March.  Programs will last approximately one hour and can accommodate up to 24 students.  For more information or to schedule a field trip email

Funding for the exhibit and related public programs was provided by a National Maritime Heritage Grant administered by the National Park Service, Department of the Interior, a project grant from Mass Humanities, a state agency supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, and grants from Dartmouth, Fairhaven, and New Bedford Cultural Councils, local agencies supported by the Mass Cultural Council. The Center is grateful the members of the fishing community who loaned or donated artifacts and shared their knowledge to make this exhibit possible.