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Fresh seafood laid out on one of several floating barge vendors.
General view of the market

The Maine Avenue Fish Market of Washington, D.C., also known as "the Wharf" or "the Fish Wharf", is one of the few surviving open air seafood markets on the east coast. In operation since 1805,[1] it is the oldest continuously operating fish market in the United States, 17 years older than New York City's Fulton Market,[2] which was relocated to the Bronx in 2005. The Maine Avenue Market was relocated in the 1960s, within a few blocks of its original location on the Washington Channel.

Located on the Southwest waterfront under the shadow of Interstate 395, it stands as a cultural relic popular with locals but unknown to many of the tourists who flock to the monuments and museums just five blocks north. There are over ten stores, each with a specialty. The Maine Avenue Fish Market is open each day of the week, but the largest selection of fish is on display Friday evening through Sunday.[3]

A multitude of fresh seafood is sold on floating barges that line the pier along Water Street. These barges are a tribute to the original system in which fishing boats would journey sixty miles back and forth from Colonial Beach, Virginia, where they would harvest the bay. In the 1960s, refrigerated trucks became more efficient and the "buy boats" were permanently docked and later replaced by the steel barges which exist today.

The original 19th-century Municipal Fish Market building was razed in the 1960s to make way for a waterfront urban renewal project, but the vendors refused to leave and exercised a clause in their leases allowing them to stay for 99 years.[4] As a result, the current Municipal Pier was built for the market underneath the I-395 12th Street highway offramp, to service the new floating barges. The Fish Market has been praised by urban planners as an example of the sort of small-scale, integrated streetscape which has been displaced by large-scale urban redevelopment in much of the Washington D.C. area.[5] However, the Market is somewhat isolated from the Mall due to its location under the freeway, and the city has refrained from promoting it as an attraction due to uncertainty about whether it can be preserved as an outdoor floating market.

Plans are underway (as of 2009) to once again redevelop the entire length of Maine Avenue and remove the frontage road (Water Street) on which the existing waterfront buildings and wharf are located.[6][7] It is unclear what will be the impact on the historic market, or whether it will be wholly preserved, but all of the associated support structures on Water Street, including the sole remaining land-based eatery, were scheduled to be razed ”to keep the Fish Market in safe and operable condition until the redevelopment occurs”.[8] According to a website associated with the developer PN Hoffman, "Washington’s historic Fish Market will be preserved and renovated and the maritime heritage of the site promoted."[9]

References

  1. ^ "On D.C. Waterfront, a Feast for the Senses"". Washington Post. August 30, 2005. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/08/29/AR2005082902005.html.  
  2. ^ New Fulton Fish Market Cooperative, "About the Fulton Fish Market". Retrieved 9/07/2009.
  3. ^ "Browsing the Maine Avenue Fish Market". Washington Post: p. C02. January 11, 2004. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A6819-2004Jan10.html.  
  4. ^ "What's With the Fish Market?". Washingtonian Magazine. October 30, 2008. http://www.washingtonian.com/blogarticles/9861.html.  
  5. ^ Project For Public Spaces, "Washington DC Fish Market - Great Public Spaces". Retrieved 9/07/2009.
  6. ^ "Southwest Waterfront Developers Ask for 16 Acres". Washington City Paper. October 9, 2008. http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/housingcomplex/2008/10/09/southwest-waterfront-developers-ask-for-16-acres/.  
  7. ^ "D.C. Council Approves Southwest Waterfront deal". Washington Business Journal. December 17, 2008. http://www.bizjournals.com/washington/stories/2008/12/15/daily50.html.  
  8. ^ "Buildings Razed in Maine Avenue Fish Market". Washington City Paper. January 12, 2009. http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/housingcomplex/2009/01/12/buildings-razed-in-maine-avenue-fish-market/.  
  9. ^ Washington D.C. Economic Partnership, "Retail Opportunities". Retrieved 9/07/2009.
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