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The New Bedford Fishing Heritage Center: A Hidden Gem in the South Shore

Read the article online here.

Our Wicked Fish

January 18, 2020


*Note: Admission to The New Bedford Fishing Heritage Center is free from January – March 2020

Street view of the New Bedford Heritage Fishing Center in Downtown New BedfordWhat do you think of when you hear “New Bedford”? For the longest time, I always thought of The Whaling Museum, cobblestone streets, massive portions of delicious Portuguese food, and fleets of scallop boats in the harbor. Do you think of these iconic items too?


Now, I hope to add one more piece to your portrait of New Bedford – the New Bedford Fishing Heritage Center.

This place is a must-visit! Their purpose is to preserve and present the story of the fishing community past, present, and future.

New Bedford Fishing Heritage Center is at 38 Bethel Street in Downtown New Bedford


The New Bedford Fishing Heritage Center is a small space with a big heart.

Visitors get immersed in what it is like to be part of different seafood industry professions at different periods in time! Their exhibits are interactive, informative, and are created with help from the industry professionals that make New Bedford the most valuable seaport in the United States. The nets, gear, historic documents, photographs, and personnel are the real deal!

Within the Center’s 2,100 square foot main gallery at 38 Bethel Street are several exhibits including Gear Up where “visitors can try mending a section of net and develop a grub list – a shopping list to feed their crew…”. There’s also a visitor and industry favorite called At Sea  which “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.”

Their gift shop itself is a hidden gem in downtown New Bedford.  Unique artisan pieces like handmade jewelry, beautiful fish and marine paintings, and a stellar collection of books makes you second guess whether you’re in a museum or in a high-end gift boutique. And unlike most gift shops, the pieces are affordable and many are made locally by artists from the fishing community.

One of the hands-on activities at the Gear-Up exhibit is learning how to mend a fishing net. Photo at The New Bedford Fishing Heritage Center. Taken by A.Davis


The Fishing Heritage Center is more than exhibits too. There’s a flexible public programming space for related talks, film screenings, performances, demonstrations and educational programs. Their calendar of events can be found here and many events are free and open to the public.

Films about the commercial fishing industry and other aspects of the working waterfront are screened on the third Friday of each month at 7:00 p.m. in the theater of the New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park’s Corson Maritime Learning Center, located at 33 William Street.

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If interested, tours of the seafood auction, fish processing plants, gear manufacturing facilities, and fishing vessels are available.  In addition, guided walking tours of the port are available. Tour fees vary depending upon tour selected and size of the group.


The New Bedford Fishing Heritage Center relies on grants and support from the community. Here are ways you can support them

  • Visit with friends and family – You’ll be so glad you did. Here’s a link to visitor information including hours, directions, and parking.

  • School field trips– The exhibits were designed for all ages to learn about their seafood and the industry.  The staff does a fantastic job organizing logistics with teachers and schools and, with enough notice, can arrange for students to tour a vessel, the auction house, and fish processing plants. Here is their contact information page

  • Attend their special events

  • Donate – You can donate online, in person, or by mail. “ Supporters help us preserve and present the story of the fishing industry past, present, and future, through exhibits, programs, and archives. We thank you on behalf of the children we serve, the community we engage, and the many members and visitors who benefit from your generous gift. “         – New Bedford Fishing Heritage Center

  • Eat local seafood – Support New Bedford’s fishing community by eating a diversity of locally caught seafood including scallops, haddock, pollock, hake, and skate!

  • Share their messages – Not only do they make great exhibits inside the center, but they also make fantastic online content! They can be found on Instagram @nbfishingheritagecenter and on Facebook at NBFishingHeritageCenter .


A big thank you to Laura Orleans, director of New Bedford Heritage Center, for the tour and stories and her time. And a thank you to Brendan Mitchell for connecting me with Laura.

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