A Working Waterfront

fullsizeoutput_47cbOne of my more interesting summer outings was a Whaling City Expeditions harbor tour in New Bedford, Massachusetts.

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This was a little bit of history, a little bit of sociology, and a really good look at how New England seafood makes its way to a chef’s table. We set sea (barely — we hardly left the mouth of the Acushnet River) on the tiny Acushnet, which sat moored outside of the Wharfinger Building, the city’s first official fish auction house.

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Somewhere between 470 and 500 fishing and seafood vessels call New Bedford home — the harbor is like a giant boat parking lot:fullsizeoutput_4b26.jpeg

The boats in this harbor are largely ground fishers (which bring in fish like sole and code) and scallopers (which can be identified by the giant wheels at the center or back, as on the left below)…

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… though you sometimes also see clam boats, recognizable by the many barrels on the stern …

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… and much-smaller lobster boats:

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Most of these boats, once full, will eventually bring their catch to the Buyers and Sellers Exchange, a giant auction house that sits right on the harbor (behind the delightfully-named Tina):

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New Bedford prides itself on having the largest seafood auction in the US — in this case, “largest” meaning that it does more trade by value than anyone else.

The biggest fleet in these waters is owned by the Codfather, Carlos Rafael, who currently sits in prison for lying about his catch (his host of crimes included tax evasion, bulk catch smuggling, and falsifying records). Of the 32 green and beige boats he has in the water, nearly 24 have been barred from engaging in ground fishing.

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Our tour guide seemed reluctant to talk about the Codfather’s misdeeds, but my aunt and then the New York Times filled me in where our tour narrative left off.

We did have a chance to learn about harbor safety and engineering, however. Our tour brought us past a small lighthouse, which was first lit in 1849 …

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… and then out through the New Bedford Hurricane Protection Barrier:

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This giant earthfill dike, built by the US Corps of Engineers in the mid-1960s, is the longest hurricane barrier on the East Coast. Boats can only get in and out of the harbor through its imposing gates, which rise 20 feet above the water:

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Just past the barrier sits Fort Phoenix, built in 1775 (the first naval engagement of the Revolutionary War, the Battle of Fairhaven, took place in nearby Buzzards Bay in that same year). The British destroyed the fort in 1778, but it somehow made a quick little comeback and went on to see one day’s worth of action in the War of 1812.

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On the other side of the harbor, you get a close-up view of the New Bedford-Fairhaven Bridge, one of the oldest swing truss bridges in the country. Built in 1899, this bridge continues to create an exciting challenge for car drivers as it opens …

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… and closes each day.

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But mostly what you see on this tour are boats, of all different sizes …

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… shapes …

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… and colors:

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Not all of the boats were in the harbor, of course; an average boat will go out out trawling for anywhere from one to two weeks. We also learned that each boat will carry anywhere from six to twelve men, depending on the size of the vessel, and that a boat may make as much as $500,000 for a ten-day trip. All of this work makes for a giant industry, and a supporting cast of marine characters in the harbor includes giant boat lifts …

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… and tug boats (if you’ve ever read Little Toot, a children’s book by Hardie Gramatky, you’ll know why this is my favorite kind of boat):
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My dad, aunt and I had a great time on this trip!

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And if you happen to find yourself in New Bedford on a warmer and sunnier day, you can have a very different kind of local experience at West Island Beach in Fairhaven:

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This is a great place to sit by the ocean, swim, clamber over rocks …

fullsizeoutput_47b8…pay a visit to the cormorants …

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… watch the kitesurfers battling the wind …

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… appreciate the marshes …

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… and generally have a great time with your family (in this case, my sister and my aunt)!

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