NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — Those who’ve been in and around the Town Wharf in the past week may have noticed a new addition to the waterfront, as an interpretive sign detailing facts of the local fishing industry and the history of Wickford’s commercial fishing heritage.
The sign is part of the Rhode Island Fishing Heritage Trail, a project by Wakefield-based non-profit Eating with the Ecosystem, which first began in 2017 when the group installed 11 signs at the Port of Galilee about the port and the fishing industry and since has expanded into other towns, including East Greenwich, Warwick, Newport, Bristol and Sakonnet Point in Little Compton, each specifically tailored to the commercial fishing industry in their respective community.
The project was the brainchild of local fisher, author and Eating with the Ecosystem founder Sarah Schumann, while the signs were designed by the non-profit’s Program Director, Kate Masury.
“The first round of those signs got installed in 2017 and those were 11 signs that were in the port of Point Judith, which is where the largest concentration of fishing vessels are in Rhode Island, and so we did a series of signs there about the port and the fishing industry and we really wanted to expand that and include the other equally important ports here in Rhode Island, including Wickford,” Masoury said.
The sign, like the rest of the project, was funded by a grant to the non-profit from the Rhode Island Foundation while its base, requested by the Wickford Plan Committee to match other signs in the area, was covered by the town, who were first approached by the group in 2018 according to North Kingstown Long Range Planner Becky Lamond.
“They asked the town if we would be interested in accepting the donation of a sign highlighting our local fishing heritage,” Lamond said. “The Wickford Plan Committee first discussed the sign donation at their meeting in May 2018.”
The committee agreed that the sign should be placed in the southeast area of the Town Wharf at the end of Main Street, and after meetings between the committee and Schumann, the donation of the sign was accepted by the North Kingstown Town Council, who also approved the purchase of a black powder coated aluminum base which was installed by the Department of Public Works at the east side of the entrance to the wharf.
“This location provides good visibility and offers a nice opportunity to educate passersby on the importance of our local fishing heritage,” Lamond said. “It is a beautifully designed sign that provides interesting information on the history of our local fishing industry and what it means to be part of that heritage in Wickford today.”
As for the sign itself, both Schumann and Eating with the Ecosystem built upon their relationships with fishermen in town to tell the story of the industry in town, as well as additional research.
“Sarah did a lot of the background research and planning with us, and then she helped install the signs in the different ports as well, and so between our relationship with them at Eating with the Ecosystem and Sarah’s relationships and then just reaching out to fisherman in the port,” Masury said. “We got to talk with them about what things they felt important to include in the sign, like the species that were landed there or the different types of boats that are there, as well as including the historical perspective about how important fishing was to Wickford itself in terms of its heritage.”
For Schumann, who once worked at an Wickford oyster farm, recognizing the town’s fishing industry and its history was “very important.”
“Wickford has this very nice historical trail but the fishing industry didn’t have their own sign as part of that, so I feel this particular sign ties into both the Rhode Island Fishing Heritage Trail, which is now in eight different ports in Rhode Island, but also ties into the Wickford Historical Signage Trail, so it kind of pulls double duty and fills the gap in both of those trails,” Schumann said.
Now installed among other signs and historical markers in the village, Masury hopes the signage will encourage people to think more about their local fishermen and their impact.
“We hope that the signs make the public more aware of the fishing industry that’s there and how important it is both to the economy and the culture,” Masury said.
For more information on Eating with the Ecosystem, visit their website, eatingwiththeecosystem.org.