Five-generation Tiverton fishing family passes the reins

Arianna Helger set to take over family's seafood business

Posted 1/19/23

Senior year of college is typically a heavy lift.  That description takes on new meaning in the case of University of Rhode Island senior Arianna Helger, who not only carries a full-time …

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Five-generation Tiverton fishing family passes the reins

Arianna Helger set to take over family's seafood business

Posted

Senior year of college is typically a heavy lift. 

That description takes on new meaning in the case of University of Rhode Island senior Arianna Helger, who not only carries a full-time course load but regularly juggles work in her family business, quahogging in Narragansett Bay, and her role as president of the Student Alumni Association. Helger has been hauling shellfish in Narragansett Bay since she was a child. Her enthusiasm for hard work and challenge will serve her well as she takes over her family’s business after graduation in June. 

Helger’s family operates Helger’s Bridgeport Seafood in Tiverton, nestled on the shore of the Sakonnet River. The market draws a wide range of dedicated customers (and some celebrities, as well). She’ll be the fifth generation to operate the family market.

Working in the family business is a labor of love. Helger was ready to go directly into business after graduating from Tiverton High School but her mother, a teacher, encouraged her to look at URI for marine biology, to gain book knowledge to complement the on-the-job experience she’d gained growing up.

Today, Helger is glad she took that advice and touts the strength of the program she joined. “I have loved URI’s marine biology program — it’s the best there is,” she said.

To prepare for the work to come, Helger also has taken classes that round out her marine studies, including courses in accounting and finance to prepare for a career as a small business owner. 

Helger’s perspective on seafood’s business side has also given her a different point of view in the classroom. She can readily speak to the challenges that arise for those in the fishing business when regulations are put in place to combat overfishing and other issues. “Fishing is important for our economy, as well as sustainability,” she said. “I can speak to both the fish and commercial side.”

The market sells seafood wholesale and retail, with seafood sourced locally and from the port of New Bedford, including the quahogs that Helger harvests herself in the lower Providence River. Helger’s great-great-grandmother started the original market in Tiverton in 1937. 

As she starts to follow in her great-great-grandmother’s footsteps, Helger will be working with customers, wholesalers and agencies like the Rhode Island Department of Health. Her father, David Helger, will continue to play a role as she assumes the reins. They have developed a strong bond through their work at the business, which is evidenced by daily conversations and check-ins about the market, and photo swaps of pictures of the day’s case display.

The shop sells saltwater fish, everything from Arctic char and bay scallops to swordfish and striped bass, and draws customers from outside New England and even as far away as New Zealand. You’ll also find their fish on the menu at fine restaurants in the region, from the Back Eddy in Westport to Scales & Shells in Newport.

The Helger family has deep roots in the Tiverton area and a strong business bent. The original Helger ancestor came to the area from Germany and had several children who spread out and started businesses. Today, their entrepreneurial legacy dots the area, with an eponymous turkey farm, greenhouse, Christmas tree farm, and Helger’s ice cream, and many more businesses. If her business needs anything, it’s likely that she can find a cousin for it. 

At URI, Helger’s work on the Student Alumni Association, an organization which connects current students to URI alumni, gave her the chance to further develop her leadership skills. “It’s also been a great way to make friends,” Helger says. “It’s like a family.”

Helger wrapped up her term as president earlier this month.

“Arianna has been an exceptional leader,” says Michele Nota, vice president for alumni engagement at the URI Foundation & Alumni Engagement. “Always with a smile, she has encouraged her fellow Student Alumni Association members to find new ways to connect students with alumni. Her pride for the University is contagious.”

“I have loved URI,” she said. “Experiences working in marine biology labs and on the trawler boat have been really cool. And the faculty are helpful and approachable; the professors are so knowledgeable and open. URI’s program has been really great to get me set up for my next chapter at our seafood business." 

 

2023 by East Bay Media Group

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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.