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Who Remembers … the New Bedford Scallop Festival?

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Here is another installment in our Who Remembers? series. You can browse previous articles by using the search bar on the right or by clicking here. These articles are strolls down memory lane. In some cases, the buildings, but new businesses have replaced them. In other instances, the buildings or even the properties have been razed. Instead of a building, it may be a TV show, personality, or commercial that no one longer exists. Either way, it can’t stop us from taking the Memory Lane stroll!

As always we would rather this be a discussion. No one knows this area better than those who grew up here! Please, leave constructive criticism, feedback, and corrections. We’d love to hear your anecdotes. Please share!

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In a typical year of fishing for Atlantic sea scallops, around 55 million pounds are harvested at a value of approximately $570 million. Massachusetts is the state where more scallops are brought to port than anywhere else in the country and the city of New Bedford is responsible for a lion’s share of this annual scallop harvesting: we have been the nation’s most valuable port for 20 years straight with scallops comprising about 80% of the seafood we caught. We’re not only darn good at scalloping, but we’ve been doing it since 1883.


Live scallop in its natural habitat.

While the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has reported that scallops are not currently overharvested and New Bedford’s fishermen are more than eager to head out to sea and meet the demands of hungry seafood lovers, the New England Fishery Management Council said that there will be a significant drop in this year’s catch, to a predicted 40 million pounds. This likely means an increase from the average current price of $20 per pound, but that also depends on how much scallops are brought to market from foreign markets.

We obviously love scallops! Wrapped in bacon, seared lemon-garlic butter, fried scallops, scallop roll, broiled, stuffed scallops, in a casserole, paella, or stew, or as part of a surf ‘n turf, you name it, our love affair with the bivalve. Believe it or not, what we call a “scallop” is actually the adductor muscle of a saltwater clam that is responsible for closing the clam’s shell. The muscle only makes up about 30% of the clam and the rest is the stomach, digestive glands, eyes, intestines, a “foot,” heart, tentacles (yes, tentacles), gonads (yes, gonads!), gills, ovary or roe, etc. A strange creature that belies its tastiness!

Now that we’ve satisfied Joe Friday’s requirements about our beloved scallop, let’s have some foodie talk. We are the world’s highest-grossing seafood ports and the majority of that seafood is scallops, thereby producing revenue for the city and plenty of jobs, why the heck do we not have a Scallop festival?!


The insides of the saltwater clam showing the proportion of the adductor muscle or “scallop” compared to the entire clam.

We have a Seaport Chowder Festival (which does feature scallop shucking) Folk Festival, Jazz Festival, two Portuguese “Feasts”, and until recently a Whaling City Festival and Working Waterfront Festival. These festivals characterize everything that is quintessentially New Bedford. No scallop festival seems to be a glaring oversight and an obvious event that would generate revenue for the city as well as please tens of thousands of people.

An obvious idea is obvious, you say? Well, this is not a new idea, but instead, an old idea: New Bedford had its first Scallop Festival in 1958!

The festival was the brainchild of the New Bedford Exchange Club and the New Bedford Seafood Co-Op who wanted to promote the idea of scallops being tasty, fat-free, boneless, and nutritious and help boost profits in the novel industry. Incredibly, not many people were familiar with scallops being on the dinner plate and the two groups felt that a festival where locals could have a taste would be a great way to introduce locals to the idea. The dish they tried to promote? Nope, not scallops wrapped in bacon, but “Curried Scallop Kebabs.” Say what?


Poster advertising “Curried Scallop Kebabs” during the New Bedford Scallop Festival.

Each August, organizers would pitch tents at Pope’s Island for 3 days, and with the help of mascots “Sammy the Scallop” and “Susie Scallop” they would promote the festival which brought in people from the South Coast, Boston, Providence, and Cape Cod and beyond. They would flock to the annual event to gobble up the “Pearl of the Atlantic” in as many ways as chefs could create.

The price for a pound of scallops at that first festival? 60 cents during the winter and half that in the summer, prices which likely reflected the supply – more scallops available, the lower the cost for the consumer, and more boats harvesting in the summer meant driving down prices.

Each year, for a decade, the New Bedford Scallop Festival grew until it hit a snag in the market price: in 1968 there was a decline in landings of scallops while there was simultaneously an increase in yellowtail flounder landings. Organizers switched gears and redubbed the festival to the New Bedford Seafood Festival and alas the scallop festival was no more.


Postcar featuring two of the festivals mascots, “Sammie and “Susie.”

But here we sit more than 50 years later in a much different seafood market. There’s no need to convince people that scallops are tasty or that we should curry kebab them. Oh, we know scallops intimately now. How about we bring back the New Bedford Scallop Festival, the 11th Annual New Bedford Scallop Festival to be exact.

Can you imagine the aroma of scallops, bacon, garlic, and butter being cooked, wafting through the air? We could have live music, food trucks and stands, a shucking contest, a seafood market, and awards for the best dishes. All the area seafood companies could supply the festival with seafood, and feature their products and employees, while the restaurants can offer signature scallop dishes right from their menu.

Once again we would draw a crowd from the region and beyond, bringing in revenue and a boost to local businesses as visitors explored the rest of the city, enjoying and exploring all the New Bedford has to offer. How about it New Bedford?

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Do you recall when the New Bedford Scallop Festival was up and running? Remember the mascots “Sammie and Susie”? Would like to see it return? Let us know in the comment section or email us at info@newbedfordguide.com.

About Michael Silvia

Served 20 years in the United States Air Force. Owner of New Bedford Guide.

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One comment

  1. Catherine Martin

    There was a beauty pageant as well

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