Vol 6 No. 25 - March 15, 2006
Cortez woman starts shrimping business
SUN PHOTOS/CINDY LANE
Kathe Fannon is a fourth-generation commercial fisherman,
charter boat captain and shrimper whose latest venture
is a bait shop she plans to open next to the Star
Fish Co. in Cortez. Shes pictured with her
husband, fisherman Mike Fannon, and first mate,
By Cindy Lane
sun staff writer
Theres my reason for living," calls out
Kathe Fannon to her husband, Mike, whos working
on the docks near her "office" - a charter boat
quickly filling with passengers.
Kathe has tried working on dry land, but it never seems
to take. Thats because salt water is in her blood,
she says. It has to be, if you want to make a living in
a dying occupation, which is what she calls commercial
"If youre not born into it, it wont work,"
Sometimes it doesnt work even then. Last year, she
tried bait fishing, but a fish-killing red tide that lasted
nine months ended that project.
This year, shes tried stone crabbing with her husband,
but something has caused the crab season to drop off to
Obstacles abound, but no matter who you ask, theres
one prevailing ill wind that put the real stranglehold
on Cortez commercial fishermen.
The 1995 ban on gill nets made it tremendously more difficult
to catch mullet, the staple food for generations of Cortez
families and the source of mullet roe, an internationally-favored
"When the net ban came in, I quit fishing,"
say Kathe, 44, the kind of person who fixes things and
is not accustomed to something that cant be fixed.
"All of a sudden I was committing a crime doing what
Im born to do," she says. "It was the
anchor, and they cut the line."
She spent three years working at a restaurant, a bank
and other land jobs, mourning her lost career in commercial
fishing. Then her husband built her a boat to get her
back out on the water. The first trip was rough.
"I started crying. And Im tough," she
said. "I dont cry easy."
But it worked, and the lure of the sea eventually drew
Kathe back to her roots. Its the only job that feels
right to her, partly because of the example set by Jesus
and his disciples, she says.
"Theres no higher authority for fishing. Cast
your nets on the waters, He said."
Kathe learned to fish from her father, Frank Tupin, who
learned it from his father, Luther Tupin, who learned
it from his father in Texas. Frank didnt have any
sons, but Kathe didnt mind when he called her "son."
Sitting in a classroom, shed be thinking about where
in the water her dad would be, given the tides and the
wind and the length of time shed been cooped up
When her dad started shrimping, she and her mother and
two sisters would go out with him to help, seven days
a week, she recalls.
It was good experience for her latest venture.
Shes just bought Wally Lewis shrimp boat and
a truck to haul the shrimp, and she plans to open a bait
shop soon next to the Star Fish Co.
Lewis, one of the last three bait shrimpers in Cortez,
is retiring, and now its Kathes turn to carry
on the tradition.
Her daughter, Katie Scarlett, 15, might surprise her and
become the fifth generation of her family to fish, she
says, a hint of hope in her voice. But the salt water
in Katies veins might be a bit diluted; she was
only five years old when the net ban was imposed, and
she doesnt know what its like to sit in the
back of a boat and pull a gill net with her dad, like
But shell know what its like to watch her
mom come back to the docks with a load of shrimp, and
hear her called "Captain Kathe" as she takes
out boats for Captain Kims Charters, run by Kim
Ibasfalean, a Cortez woman who hosts a local public access
television program on marine issues, and served as a consultant
for a film shot partly on Wally Lewis dock.
Being a charter boat captain is not something she ever
thought shed do, Kathe says. It means going out
to the Kitchen in Sarasota Bay, where Cortez families
could always find food come depression or wartime, and
finding fish for sport fishermen, whose influence drove
the net bans passage.
But Kathe has taken to heart a strategy from the film
Gone With the Wind, which inspired her daughters
"I'm going to make friends with the Yankee carpetbaggers,"
says Kathe in an authentic Southern accent, quoting Scarlett
OHara. "And I'm going to beat them at their
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