Documenting the Portuguese-American experience in the fishing industry of New Bedford

The Ferreira-Mendes Portuguese-American Archives at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth (UMD) and the National Marine Fisheries Service of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), in collaboration with local organizations tied to the fishing industry and the Portuguese community, will be conducting an oral history project aimed at documenting the experience and contributions of local Portuguese-speaking fishermen.

The study is coordinated by Dr. Gloria de Sá, a professor of sociology at UMD and faculty director of the Ferreira-Mendes Archives, and Dr. Patricia Pinto da Silva, a social scientist with NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center in Woods Hole. Funded by a grant from NOAA’s Preserve America Initiative, the study also counts with the support of various individuals associated with New Bedford’s United Fishermen’s Club, the Voices from the Fisheries Oral History Database, the Working Waterfront Festival, the School for Marine Science and Technology, and the Center for Portuguese Studies and Culture.

Involvement in fishery activities and the presence of a large Portuguese community are two of the most salient cultural characteristics of New Bedford. Three of the area’s major tourist attractions, for example, are the Working Waterfront Festival, the Madeira Feast and the Day of Portugal festivities, which bring tens of thousands of visitors to the area. Yet, although the Portuguese and the sea have been paramount in shaping the economy and the culture of this region, the interaction between the two has not been adequately explored and documented.

The Portuguese comprise more than half of the owners and operators of the fishing fleet of New Bedford, the number one fishing port in the U.S. Given that the sector is undergoing rapid transformation, including the retirement of aging fishermen, documenting their experience is an urgent matter. This study seeks to preserve, protect and enhance the understanding of this particular aspect of local and American heritage by recording, transcribing and translating a series of oral histories with representative Portuguese-speaking members of New Bedford’s fishing industry; and by collecting photos and other documents related to their activity.

The research will be used to develop a variety of products and activities, such as k-12 teaching materials, exhibits, and publications, aimed at providing and preserving information relevant to the understanding of fisheries management, coastal restoration and the economic vitality of the port of New Bedford. All materials collected and developed through this project will be made available to educators, students, researchers and the general public at UMD’s Ferreira-Mendes Portuguese-American Archives and the Voices from the Fisheries Oral History Database.

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