Vol 7 No. 22 - Februaury 21, 2007

Cortez festival nets loads of fun

Crowds dined al fresco at
the Star Fish Co. overlooking
the Cortez docks.

ByCindy Lane
sun staff writer

CORTEZ – The 25th Annual Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival reeled in thousands of visitors last weekend to sample seafood, admire nautical art exhibits and learn a little something about fishing.

Matthew Ibasfalean grabbed a crab from the touch tank and showed it a visitor, who hesitantly touched it well behind its claws as the boy explained its anatomy.

"He can go like this for hours," said his father, fisherman Mark Ibasfalean, who set up the touch tank and several aquariums with sparkling Sarasota Bay as the backdrop. The cold weather kept them up most of the night trying to keep the exhibits warm, he said.

"What’s that?" a man asked, pointing to the old net camp in the middle of the bay. The wooden building, where nets were dried when they were made from cotton, not plastic, is one of the village’s many historical sights that draw thousands of people to the festival
each year.

But the biggest attraction is seafood, from the smoked mullet that made Cortez famous to grouper, shrimp, crayfish and octopus. Diners sat outdoors in the crisp weather to enjoy the bayside views of the Cortez fleet, or huddled near the stage to enjoy music by bands, including two headlined by Cortez natives — the Richard Culbreath Group and the Eric von Hahmann Band.

Children enjoyed rock climbing, exploring the Privateers pirate ship, the gator exhibit, old-fashioned pony rides and a petting zoo featuring a savvy llama that lurked near the food dispenser, waiting for a handout.

Rescued owls were on display, as white pelicans – true snowbirds that they are – soared overhead and splashed down in the bay.

Seabirds and fish were the inspiration for many of the artists displaying their works at the festival, ranging from intricate carved wooden fish, scales and all, to solar-powered landscape lights that looked like dockside pilings with roosting seagulls.

Reproductions of traditional wooden boats being built by hand at the Florida Maritime Museum delighted boat lovers, who admired the handwork as gospel music wafted by from a tent pitched outside the church.

At $2 a person, the festival was a welcome change for Disney-weary tourists looking for a taste of authentic Florida, and a bite of smoked mullet to go.

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