In 1971, leaders from Ballard’s industrial and fishing community joined forces with the Ballard Elks to start SeafoodFest. The event began as a two-hour barbeque to raise money for a financially strapped Chamber of Commerce. By 1978, the event had grown into a daylong affair held in Bergen Place Park. In 1979, the event was moved from September to July, branded as “a tribute to the Washington State Fishing Industry and the Scandinavian heritage of many of the settlers of the Northwest Seattle community.”
By 1982, more seafaring elements were added. At Stimson Marina, visitors could tour the crab boat “Rosie G” and a 1913 deep sea, wooden hulled halibut schooner. The next year, local businesses hosted a fishing industry photo exhibit. Pacific Fisherman offered shipyard tours. SeafoodFest became a Seafair sanctioned event, and the date was changed to coincide with Seafair. In 1984, the event was called Pacific SeafoodFest and included restaurant vendors that specialized in seafood. Two contests co-sponsored by the Ballard Chamber: one judged recipes for pickled, smoked, dried, canned and marinated seafood. The other, the Great American Seafood Grill Off, challenged grillers to cook the best recipe using Pacific fin fish.
Through the 1990s, SeafoodFest continued to evolve. Instead of an emphasis on seafaring activities, more festival-oriented elements were added. A music stage featuring popular local bands, a family entertainment stage, a beer garden, and more arts and crafts vendors brought an entire new audience to the festival. What started as a two-hour dinner in 1971 is now an iconic two day event that draws over 60,000 people.
Forty-one years young, SeafoodFest still reflects the authenticity of Ballard and its roots as a fishing and maritime community.