Updated Feb. 19, 2018
CORTEZ – When kids are petting horseshoe crabs, people are dancing in flip flops to rock and roll and everyone is enjoying fresh seafood under sunny blue skies, you know it’s Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival time.
This year’s 36th annual festival featured the theme “Rooted in History,” with a sturdy mangrove – a plant that lives with its roots in saltwater – serving as the symbol for Cortez commercial fishing families.
Organizers provided easier maneuvering than ever this year, with arts displays and dining areas spread out in several places.
This year’s nautical art and crafts included coconut fish, handmade signs featuring local place names like the Anna Maria City Pier, huge wooden fishing lure wall hangings, blown glass sea creatures and delicate coquina shell flowers among many other creative offerings.
Kids enjoyed having their faces painted and their likenesses drawn, riding ponies, playing with marine life in a touch tank and bouncing to the sky in a harness.
Visitors learned about commercial fishing and local marine life in a Cortez fish house on Sarasota Bay before selecting meals from dozens of fresh seafood vendors.
Live music provided the backdrop for the party with a purpose, namely, to raise money to continue purchasing land to add to the FISH Preserve and continue restoring the nearly 100 acres already acquired by the Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage (FISH).
FISH presented awards to:
John Floersheimer, FISH Community Service Award for volunteer work at the FISH Preserve
Theodore (Ted) Adams, Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage Community Service Award for outstanding support and service to the village of Cortez and the Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage
Fidelity Bank, Cortez Branch, the Business Community Service Award for contributions to the business community of Cortez and for volunteer support of the Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival and the Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage
James O. (Junie) Guthrie, the 2018 Cortez Pioneer Award to one of the oldest living residents of a founding family of the village of Cortez.
Cortez has been a fishing village for more than 1,000 years, beginning with Native Americans, Spanish fishermen who established fishing ranchos, and, in the 1880s, settlers from Carteret County, N.C., including Green’s ancestors, the Fulfords.
The village survived a devastating hurricane in 1921, a killer red tide in 1947 and increasing regulations limiting commercial fishing.
Local fishermen created the festival in 1982 to counter growing opposition to the commercial fishing industry. While Florida voters passed a constitutional amendment in 1994 to ban gill nets, putting much of Cortez out of work, the festival – and Cortez – still survived.
The first year, villagers pitched in to make fish chowder, which was gone by noon, recalls festival veteran John Stevely. Nowadays, a huge food court ensures plenty of seafood, including the Cortez staple, smoked mullet.