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Research Report

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The historic harbor lying between the City of New Bedford and Town of Fairhaven has shaped the identities and economies of these two municipalities for centuries. Today, the Harbor is one of nation’s preeminent fishing ports, ranked #1 nationally in 2007 in dollar value ($268 million) of fish landings with an estimated total economic regional impact of nearly $1 billion. The New Bedford’s seafood processing industry has grown in size and sophistication in recent years and is an internationally established center for this industry. Marine service and vessel repair industries, centered in Fairhaven, have an excellent reputation with commercial fleets all along the East Coast and have successfully diversified to capture markets associated with recreational vessels. With the creation of the New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park in 1996, the Harbor’s history and cultural heritage have gained increased visibility and recognition nationally, resulting in a more vibrant local tourism industry. An increase in the number of cruise ship port calls, the addition of fast ferry service to Martha’s Vineyard, and the return of maritime shipping are among the recent changes that have added new vitality to the Port and the promise of renewed economic growth. Dredging, harbor cleanup and shoreside infrastructure improvements underway and/or planned will all promote and support a healthy working port and sustainable development.

Despite clear strengths, the Harbor is also encountering challenges. The difficulties of the fishing industry have had a substantial impact on fishing families throughout New England. In response to the decline in the amount and value of fish landed, there has been a consolidation of port services and of the harvesting fleets in just a few remaining commercial fishing hub service ports including New Bedford/Fairhaven. Although not immune to the struggles experienced by this industry, New Bedford/Fairhaven Harbor has successfully retained its position as one of the nation’s leading fishing ports. Unfortunately, as port consolidation continues, there has proven to be insufficient accessible waterfront land or dock space to safely and efficiently accommodate all the commercial fishing vessels that would like to make the New Bedford/Fairhaven their homeport. Several infrastructure improvements are badly needed to increase the Port’s capacity and a number of projects have already been initiated to help alleviate this problem.

The 2010 New Bedford/Fairhaven Municipal Harbor Plan includes a larger planning area from that used in the 2002 Plan. The area of the Harbor addressed in this Harbor Plan extends from the hurricane barrier to the Wood Street Bridge with a primary focus on the inner harbor’s working port. Some attention is also given to the New Bedford waterfront south of the hurricane barrier around the peninsula extending down to Fort Rodman, primarily focused on public access and some related commercial opportunities.


Prepared for the City of New Bedford and Town of Fairhaven, MA. Approved by the Secretary of the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs June 14, 2010.

Funding for the New Bedford/Fairhaven Harbor Plan was provided by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, Coastal Zone Management Office.


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