Fred Mattera

Location of Interview
Collection Name

The Working Waterfront Festival Community Documentation Project


The Working Waterfront Festival Community  Documentation Project is an ongoing oral history project documenting the history and culture of the commercial fishing industry and other port trades. The project was begun in 2004 in conjunction with the Working Waterfront Festival, an annual, education celebration of commercial fishing culture which takes place in New Bedford, MA. Interviewees have included a wide range of individuals connected to the commercial fishing industry and/or other aspects of the port through work or familial ties. While the majority of interviewees are from the port of New Bedford, the project has also documented numerous individuals  from other ports around the country. Folklorist and    Festival Director Laura Orleans and Community Scholar/Associate Director Kirsten Bendiksen are Project Leaders. The original recordings reside at the National Council for the Traditional Arts in Maryland with listening copies housed at the Festival's New Bedford office.

Date of Interview

Azure Dee Westwood

Biographical Sketch

Fred Mattera is a 53-year-old male boat owner and former fisherman from Point Judith, Rhode Island. He has a college education with a major in Political Science. Born and raised in Rhode Island, Fred comes from an Italian descent, with his grandparents migrating to the United States from Italy at the turn of the century. His family settled in Cranston, Rhode Island, where Fred spent most of his childhood. Fred's journey into the fishing industry began during his time at the University of Rhode Island. Originally planning to finish his degree and attend law school, he became fascinated with fishing after conversing with a friend who was a fisherman. Intrigued by the challenge and competition of fishing, as well as the potential for financial gain, Fred decided to give it a try. He joined a fishing crew and experienced seasickness on his first trip but found himself drawn to the profession. Instead of returning to school, Fred continued his career in fishing. Within two years, he partnered with another fisherman and purchased a boat together. Fred's dedication and skill as a fisherman led to his recognition in 1991 when he received the Highliner Reward from National Fishermen. As the President of the Point Club, a mutual insurance group for fishing vessels, he has been actively involved in promoting safety practices among fishermen. Fred Mattera has served as the President of the Point Club since 1997 and has been a member since its establishment in 1986. In addition to his responsibilities with the Point Club, Mattera also serves on the Board of Directors for Sunderland Marine Mutual Insurance Company, the underwriter for the Point Club.

Scope and Content Note
Fred discusses his Italian heritage and the migration of his grandparents to the United States. He shares how his family settled in Rhode Island and the motivations behind their move, seeking better opportunities and a new life away from Italy. Fred discusses what drew him to the fishing industry.  He described how his initial intention was to pursue a career in law after completing his college education. However, his fascination with fishing, sparked by conversations with a fisherman friend, led him to try his hand at the profession. The competitive nature and financial prospects of fishing appealed to him, and he decided to forgo law school to pursue a career at sea. Starting off, he and his crew faced initial challenges being accepted into the tight-knit fishing community of Point Judith, which was predominantly composed of old-school fishermen. However, their hard work and dedication earned them respect, and they eventually became part of the local fishing cooperative. He emphasizes the camaraderie and support among fishermen, even in the midst of competition. Throughout his fishing career, Fred encountered numerous influential figures who supported and guided him. One such person was John Dikestra, a skilled and respected fisherman known for his quiet demeanor. John provided Fred and his partner with invaluable assistance, offering them essential equipment and even buying them a new net. These acts of generosity from fellow fishermen highlighted the sense of brotherhood that existed within the fishing community, even amidst fierce competition. Despite not completing his college education, Fred expresses contentment with his choice and reflectson the character-building experiences and remarkable individuals he had encountered in the fishing industry. Mattera still cherishes the memories and experiences he had while at sea. He reminisces about the exhilaration of successful fishing trips, the camaraderie among the crew, and the challenges the job presented. However, health concerns, particularly related to his diabetes, led him to reconsider his career path and prioritize his well-being. Mattera's decision to pursue a career focused on safety and advocacy for fishermen was also influenced by his family. With his children grown and pursuing their own careers, he felt the need to prioritize his own safety and well-being. Additionally, he reflects on the impact his career choice had on his parents, who worried about the risks involved in fishing, especially when both of their sons were out at sea. As Mattera works to change the safety culture within the fishing industry, he faces resistance from some captains and owners who question the need for additional training and protocols. However, he remains determined and patient, recognizing that change takes time. He hopes that by implementing safety programs and training initiatives, the entire fishing community will become more safety-conscious, ensuring the well-being of fishermen and reducing the likelihood of accidents and tragedies at sea.

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