NOAA’s Fish Fry celebrates sustainable fisheries and delicious seafood

Employee volunteers lead tradition nearly as old as NOAA itself

UPDATED: April 2, 2021. The NOAA Fish Fry was canceled in 2020, as well as in 2021, due to COVID-19 gathering restrictions.
NOAA Officers' Family Association; Capt. Rick Brennan, Tracey Brennan, and Capt. Chris van Westendorp serving up wild blue catfish po’ boys with green papaya and cabbage slaw. Fish donated by J.J. McDonnell Seafood.
NOAA Officers' Family Association; Capt. Rick Brennan, Tracey Brennan, and Capt. Chris van Westendorp serving up wild blue catfish po’ boys with green papaya and cabbage slaw. Fish donated by J.J. McDonnell Seafood.

Freshly-shucked Wellfleet oysters, wild Alaskan sockeye salmon with a teriyaki glaze, seafood gumbo, tuna tartare, crab legs, and fried alligator are just a few of the seafood delicacies at NOAA’s Fish Fry, an annual tradition in Washington, DC. The employee-run event, which started in 1975, celebrates our nation’s unique commercial and aquaculture fisheries.  

The Fish Fry typically takes place in June and attracts more than 1,000 people* who dine on sustainable wild-caught and farmed seafood from guest chefs from around the country. The variety of seafood and roster of regional chefs serves as a reminder that eating seafood supports a vibrant economy and thousands of jobs. 

Event coordinators Cheryl Oliver and Lorraine Robidoux are looking ahead to 2021, which will be the Fish Fry’s 45th year running. “The Fish Fry is on hiatus this year while we maintain social distancing, but we are excited about the prospect of bringing seafood back to seafood lovers,” said Oliver, who also directs the NOAA Heritage Program. 

“This event is almost as old as NOAA itself, and we are proud that this tradition is still going strong after 45 years,” said Robidoux.

Albert “Benjie” Spencer, a NOAA employee with the National Weather Service, and Nicole Solomon prepare the ever-popular spiced shrimp and snow crab legs.
Albert “Benjie” Spencer, a NOAA employee with the National Weather Service, and Nicole Solomon prepare the ever-popular spiced shrimp and snow crab legs.

A Fish Fry history

The first NOAA Fish Fry started one summer day in 1975 as a small casual fishing trip organized by NOAA employees and Congressional staff members on the Chesapeake Bay. According to Paul Friday, a former NOAA employee who was “onboard” that day — whatever they caught, they prepared, cooked, and ate that evening. Little did they know a tradition had been born. For several years, the event was called “Friday’s Fish Fry” - a tribute to Friday as one of the original coordinators.

A fishing trip in the mid-1970s began a 45-year Fish Fry tradition.
A fishing trip in the mid-1970s began a 45-year Fish Fry tradition.

As the years progressed, it became a larger picnic event that was held on the grounds behind the Bethesda National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. In 2009, Friday wrote in NOAA World, an internal newsletter: “I can still remember the smiles on people’s faces when they first tasted underutilized fish species such as tilapia and monkfish. On the other hand, I also remember when we served what I like to call ‘cat dogs’ — hot dogs made with fish — that didn’t go over quite as well.” 

As the Fish Fry’s popularity grew, it changed venues to accommodate more people. First, it moved to Hogate’s Seafood Restaurant on the Potomac River. Then around 1994, the event moved to the Department of Commerce’s Herbert C. Hoover Building, with its tree-shaded courtyard and cafeteria. It is still held there today and sells out year after year.

Thank you to our many partners who make the Fish Fry a success, including:  

Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers offsite link, Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation offsite link, American Scallop Association offsite link, Beaver Street Fisheries, Inc. | Sea Best Corp. offsite link, Blue Water Fisherman’s Association, Viking Village offsite linkCaribbean Fishery Management Council offsite link, Coast Watch Alliance offsite link, Dewey Destin's Seafood Restaurants offsite link, Lionfish University offsite link, Genuine Alaska Pollock Producers offsite link, Gulf Coast Seafood Alliance offsite link, Ariel Seafoods Inc offsite link, NOAA Officers’ Family Association offsite link, J.J. McDonnell Seafood offsite link, NOAA Sea Grant, Oregon Trawl Commission offsite link, Saltbox Seafood Joint offsite link, Suquamish Tribe offsite link, Wellfleet Shellfish Promotion and Tasting offsite link, Makah Tribe offsite link, and more.

Chef Gio and Chef Juan, left to right, from the Caribbean Fishery Management Council serve corn sorullitos with lobster “fricassée”
Chef Gio and Chef Juan, left to right, from the Caribbean Fishery Management Council serve corn sorullitos with lobster “fricassée”
Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers served up sea crab bisque and sliders at the NOAA Fish Fry.
Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers served up sea crab bisque and sliders at the NOAA Fish Fry.

*This event is open to the public and funded solely through ticket sales. No appropriated funds are used for this event.