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Sea Changes at New Bedford’s Fishing Heritage Center

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1420 WBSM

Phil Paleologos (June 25, 2021)

Five years ago, tourists visiting our historic fishing port would just walk past the New Bedford Fishing Heritage Center on Bethel Street without blinking an eye. Executive Director Laura Orleans and her staff were just setting sail to start the center, with the idea of telling the action-packed story of New Bedford’s fishing industry with a year-round facility.

Yet considering how much the non-profit center has grown in these first five years, they knew they were going to need a bigger boat.

On Saturday, June 26, the public is invited to a free fifth anniversary celebration and the grand opening of the new permanent exhibit, More Than A Job: Work and Community in New Bedford’s Fishing Industry.

“‘More than a job’ is a phrase a lot of people in the industry say to describe what they do. Commercial fishing is a culture, a community, a way of life. Our new exhibit speaks to that idea,” Orleans said. “The exhibit explores themes including labor history, immigration, sustainability, and the changing nature of work and community.”

The progress made in the last five years has been noticeable. There are five listening stations, interactive touch screens, historic footage, and more than 60 audio clips that share the many voices of the local fishing community. Kids will enjoy exploring a replica working wheel house and deck, fish hold, galley tables and bunks, all designed and built at no charge by Fairhaven Shipyard. A one-third scale scallop dredge, built by Blue Fleet Welding also at no charge, provides the centerpiece for the display.

“We thought we’d give people who didn’t know too much about the fishing industry a firsthand, interactive exhibit,” Orleans said.

Courtesy Phil Mello

This time around, I seriously doubt that anyone will just walk past the center without stopping in to see the shucking demo, net mending, model making, kids activities and maritime music by Rum Soaked Crooks, to mention a few of the planned activities, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

If the new exhibit is the bait that lures you to the New Bedford Fishing Heritage Center, I guarantee, you’ll be hooked and will want to soak up all you can from the interactive exhibits and displays that use technology to make the most of the center’s limited space.

As Orleans likes to tell people, “For those who remember the Working Waterfront Festival, we’ve bottled it in a building.”

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