The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 12 No. 18 - February 15, 2012


The village that mullet built
Carol Whitmore

Mark Taylor | submitted
Earl "Rusty" Taylor, left, and son, Mark "Little Rusty" Taylor,
roping in mackerel on a power roller in the early 1990s.

Second of three parts

CORTEZ – The wind is screaming, the Gulf of Mexico is frosted with whitecaps, and it's so cold the pelicans aren't even bothering to trail the bouncing mullet boat just offshore.

But there they are, a couple of guys in yellow oilers and white boots, with leathery skin and hands tough as nails, making a living the old, hard way.

Cortez commercial fishermen are determined to follow in the wake of their great-great-great grandfathers, who settled Hunter's Point from Carteret County, N.C., in the 1800s.

There are easier ways to make a living.

Commercial fishing is the third deadliest job in America after firefighters and loggers. Boat-battering storms and fish-killing pollution and red tide make it harder. Regulations have made it almost impossible.

Stop nets and gill nets are banned and longlines are heavily regulated. It takes a team of lawyers to interpret the constantly changing rules on closed seasons and fishing quotas and catch shares. Some fisheries, like bay scallops, are closed completely.

Yet, Cortez fishermen are keeping the last two of the village's original five fish houses in business.

Staying afloat

At the A.P. Bell Fish Co., a fisherman tosses mullet fat with roe onto the conveyor belt from the dock, where the Bell fleet is moored, a dozen boats all with the name Belle in them, mostly named after women in the family of founder Aaron Parks Bell.

In the parking lot, stone crabbers are building their traps. Chainsaw Charlie carves a totem pole while his dog, Lilly, rests in the shade of the Fishermen's Memorial, which honors Cortez veterans lost during wartime and Cortez commercial fishermen lost at sea – three of them, Michael "Bugsy" Moran, Dale "Murph" Murphy and Frank "Billy" Tyne Jr., were immortalized in the film, "The Perfect Storm."

Cortez is just the way Bell's office manager, Karen Bell, likes it, full of characters who leave crab traps piled in their back yards and nets hanging like sheer laundry on a clothesline.

The Bell fish house has survived because it has adapted to changes in the fishing industry, Bell said, by catering to Asian tastes for roe and adding offshore boats to its inshore fleet when deepwater grouper became popular with diners.

At the other end of the village's waterfront, Cortez Bait and Seafood is staying afloat specializing in bait fish.

Both process stone crab, grouper and other fish, but mullet is the fish that built Cortez.

This year's mullet season, now winding down, was a record-breaker, the peak of a seven-year cycle, some say, or the result of fish swimming south to escape polluted waters from the Gulf oil spill of 2010, others speculate.

Boats overflowed, and for a moment, it was almost like the old days.

Good ol' days

Thomas "Blue" Fulford learned to fish as a boy watching his uncle, Tink Fulford, who was known for being the hardest worker in five counties. He once poled a boat by hand 20 miles around Tarpon Key while everyone else was sleeping, looking for mullet.

Fulford misses seeing fishermen walking down to the docks carrying their paper sack lunches (fish and grits for breakfast, fish and grits for dinner, and leftovers for supper, he recalls). He misses the days when fishermen built their own boats, everyone went barefoot, no one locked their doors and none of the yards had fences.

"Everybody was kin," said Fulford, president of the Organized Fishermen of Florida (OFF) for more than 20 years. "It was just heaven on earth."

"I was never hungry, even though it might be fried mullet six days a week" during the Depression, Mary Fulford Green said. "I was provided for as my father was a hard working fisherman. He had his own boat and crew when he was 14 years old."

"A fisherman would walk down to the shore and would pass another fisherman coming in and the only thing they would say to each other is something like 'oyt' " said Mark Taylor, whose grandfather, Alva Taylor, was one of the original settlers from Carteret County. "I said, 'When I grow up, I'm going to say that,' and I do."

As a Cortez kid, Taylor shoveled fish, painted boat bottoms and started earning half shares, or wages, as a teenage crew member..

There was nothing like pulling against a net full of fish, and you could never get enough of it.

"You might fish night and day seven days a week, and what do you talk about when you're not fishing? Fishing," said Taylor, whose treasures a photo showing him with a gill net full of mullet.

It's not something the current generation will ever know.

The day the music died

"I was 45 when the net ban hit, in my prime. I had just hung a $10,000 net that had never been used," said Taylor, former state director of OFF, which fought the gill net ban. I had a wholesale seafood trucking business, a purse seine boat and a gill net boat, and it just stopped cold. Suddenly, it was illegal."

The battle between commercial net fishermen, who relied on fishing for their livelihoods, and recreational hook and line fishermen, who fished for fun, played itself out in the media.

OFF fought the ban in 1994, saying that recreational fishermen, among them, fisheries regulators, skewed estimates of fish stock to make it look like commercial fishermen were overfishing.

But voters, outraged at widely publicized photographs of dead dolphins and sea turtles supposedly killed by walls of gill nets, passed a state Constitutional amendment banning the nets.

"The net ban cut out a way of fishing and whether that was for the good or the bad, I'm not sure," said Arnold "Soupy" Davis, still considered by natives as a newcomer to Cortez, having arrived in 1950. "But I totally disagree with how it was done. Having people believe in the 'walls of death,' that was an overexaggeration."

"It was a brutal social conflict, hostile and dividing," said J.B. Crawford, an author and Cortez commercial fisherman. "But the most bitter aspect was that commercial net fishermen mainly targeted mullet. The mullet is a vegetarian and does not bite a baited hook. The net ban protected fish not caught by hook and line, not targeted by sports fishermen."

Some fishermen turned to cast nets to catch mullet, others started shrimping, trapping blue crabs and stone crabs or longlining grouper. Some became dock builders or dredge operators. Some went inland to work. Taylor joined the county parks staff, raking Anna Maria Island's beaches.

Deja vu

Another ban in 1953 had put a stop to stop nets, which were placed at bayous and partially enclosed waters to trap nearly all the fish behind the nets as the tide went out.

The method created a large amount of bycatch, or trash fish, which many fishermen saw as ecologically unsound and a waste of natural resources, Crawford said, adding that the issue pitted stop netters against seine net, gill net, and trammel net fishermen.

In 2010, déjà vu happened all over again.

Longline fishing gear was all but banned due to bycatch, with only eight longline permits issued in Manatee County, according to Glen "Rabbit" Brooks, president of the Gulf Fisherman's Association, who fishes under some of the permits.

It started with one fisherman snagging a loggerhead sea turtle on a longline and ended with a limit of 62 longline permits for the entire Gulf of Mexico.

While some commercial fishermen say they love sea turtles and others say they love them for dinner, most agree that fishermen are environmentalists by necessity – they must conserve fish or they risk their future livelihoods and those of their children.

That future may be doubtful.

Forecast: partly cloudy

In recent years, the fierce independence of many fishermen has kept them at odds with each other, making them unable to fight united opposition, Fulford said, adding that in the old days, people pulled together like a crew on a net.

"It's not cohesive like it used to be," he said.

The most recent example is another new regulation launched in 2010, the individual fishing quota (IFQ) for commercially caught grouper, which has both fans and foes in the fishing community.

Patterned after a red snapper IFQ, and the precursor to planned IFQs for more species, the plan gives fishermen flexibility to fish when weather and market conditions are favorable, eliminating "derby" fishing, or having to fish in any conditions just to beat the catch limit quota for a particular fishery, according to Brooks.

"I'm strictly against the way fisheries management is going now," Davis said. "Catch shares benefit a few large fishermen at the expense of the majority of small fishermen. A handful are producing the majority of the commercial catch.

A lot of boats are tied up down there now that aren't going out."

Davis bemoans the trend toward more regulations.

"Fishing is almost an assembly line now. It's taking away all the stuff that we got in it for. We got in it because it was one of the last things you could be independent in and you didn't have a lot of controls," said Davis, who, at 85, "can't fish as hard as I used to, but I can still fish."

"Now they tell you when you can go, where you can go, how much you can catch, and what hooks you can use," he said. "You're nothing but a human robot."

Committee backs off controversial street plan
Carol Whitmore

Pine Avenue, center, is the main artery connecting
Gulfside to bayside in Anna Maria and is at the heart
of the city's small but robust business district.

ANNA MARIA – After receiving a complaint from a city commissioner, Mayor Mike Selby told members of the city's environmental committee not to become involved in Pine Avenue traffic issues.

In January, members of the Environmental Education and Enhancement Committee called for slowing down traffic on Pine Avenue by removing the yellow lines and narrowing the street."Welcome to the world of politics," Selby said. "A commissioner came to me and said you should have you read your mission statement. You're in an area that you shouldn't be involved in."

He said if they feel the issue should be pursued, they could ask the city commission to put it on a work session agenda.

"When Dan Burden (a walkable communities expert who spoke to city commissioners in August) visited, he talked about how we could environmentally enhance the walking district so it was better for people's safety. That has nothing to do with the environment?" member Jane Coleman asked.

"At least one of our commissioners doesn't think so," Selby replied.

Second thoughts

Some EEEC members said they have had second thoughts about the suggestions for Pine.

"I've talked to about 20 people and they all hate it," committee member Mary Zion said. "They think it's the craziest thing they ever heard of.

"They don't like sharing the road with bicycles, they don't understand the concept of narrowing the road and they don't like removing the lines."

"I don't think it's a good idea either," EEEC Chair Billy Malfese agreed. "I support the idea to make it more of a walkable and safer community. Narrowing the road won't make it any safer, and with no lines, people might think it's a free for all.

"It's already a madhouse with garbage trucks, trolleys, delivery trucks, local and tourist traffic and bicycles and pedal bikes that people rent. I think it would be safer if we kept them separate."

However, member Jane Coleman continued to advocate for a shared road and said, "Double yellow lines tell the cars that this road belongs to them. We have to decide what can be removed and added with our pavement, as far as paint goes, to psychologically say to cars 'slow down.'"

"Recognize it's a shared roadway," Larry Grossman, a Longboat Key resident and planner, advised. "Look at who uses it, how they use it and possible conflicts.

"You have attractions on both sides of the road, so people want to cross over. Make it safe for them to cross and easy to get around."

Grossman suggested special crosswalks where the pavement is scored or painted and landscaping to break up the roadway and slow traffic.

"It's a whole package depending on what you want to achieve," Grossman continued. "You need a plan that accommodates safely the demands that you've created by putting commercial on both sides and trying to transform Pine Avenue into a mixed use."

"We went public too fast on this topic and it became a polarized issue," Coleman concluded. "We can back off and decide what we want to say to the city commission, and they can decide if they want to do any of these things."

Cut pines provoke passion

Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

Pat Copeland | Sun
Workers grind the stumps of four Australian pines
that were on the city right of way at the end of Park Avenue.

ANNA MARIA – Once again Australian pines have sparked protests from city residents – this time at the end of Park Avenue.

"We had a meeting of about 15 people from Park and Beach who were upset because Banyan Tree Estates removed a lot of Australian pines," Mayor Mike Selby told members of the city's environmental committee Wednesday.

"There were four in the city right of way, and they offered to remove them at no cost and I approved it. We don't have any money in our budget to take them down."

Six of the pines removed by Whitehead Construction were on private property.

Park Avenue resident Betty Yanger confirmed what Selby said and added, "All of a sudden they cut the pines down and we knew nothing about it. We had no input."

On Thursday, Yanger and Nancy Yetter, representing residents of the two streets, came to the city commission to ask that the city notify nearby residents when taking down trees and replace the trees.

"I could not believe it was possible that out city officials would arbitrarily remove such a large quantity of pines without advising the citizens of the street before hand and getting their input," Yetter said to commissioners.

Yetter said the developer benefitted by giving the lots an unobstructed view of the Gulf and added, "What remains of the beach access looks like a war zone with total devastation."

Points to ponder

Yetter asked commissioners for the following:

• To prevent "such blatant destruction of the Island, especially when carried out by meetings held in secrecy;"

• To consult citizens affected by tree removals and institute a tree replacement policy;

• To determine who would pay for the trees and what trees would be planted;

• To construct a wooden shelter over the bench remaining on the beach;

• To investigate the legality of "negating the agreement with Tallahassee regarding removal of all Australian pines on the Island."

"Now that we've gotten over the trauma, we decided it's best to look forward," Yanger added.

She said tree experts have suggested cedars, live oaks, gumbo limbos or cabbage palms as replacement trees and that neighbors want tall trees that would provide shade. She said neighbors want them planted as soon as possible and would water them until they became established.

"The upside of this is that it can be a nice winding path that everyone can love," Yanger said.

City vs. private property

City Attorney Jim Dye said the city could plant trees in the right of way, but not on private property.

"As we progress and make decisions in this city, remember who you represent," former Commissioner Gene Aubry told the board. "You need to take the time to talk to people that are going to be affected by the decisions you make because sometimes they come back to bite you."

He asked how the city would deal with the seagrapes that remain there. SueLynn said she also is concerned about the seagrapes and asked who owns the land.

"The property lines run to the mean high water line," Building Official Bob Welch explained. "but we do have a 50-foot public right of way down the middle. Park Avenue extends literally into the water, and the property owners' land extends just as far."

"Trees that are on city land, we can control as landowners," Chair Chuck Webb added. "We can adopt ordinances to regulate beachfront vegetation.

"I don't like Australian pines, but they should be replaced with native trees. If somebody takes a tree off city property, they should be required to replace it and repair an damage."

He said he would put the issue on the March 8 workshop.

Tourism promoters facing criticism

BRADENTON – Manatee County tourism officials on Monday faced Anna Maria Island officials concerned that excessive tourism marketing may be ruining the very character that draws people to the Island.

"Neighborhoods are being destroyed. People are moving out," Holmes Beach Commissioner Jean Peelen told the council, adding that the Island lost 20 percent of its population from 2000 to 2010 according to the U.S. Census, as reported in The Sun on March 30, 2011.

"If this trend continues, we will lose churches, schools and civic clubs. We will become nothing but a tourist destination," Peelen said.

Increased tourism has stimulated redevelopment, with small single-family homes being demolished and replaced with large multi-bedroom duplexes that attract wedding parties and other large groups, causing trash, parking, noise and overcrowding problems in residential neighborhoods.

"If you do that in my neighborhood, I would be damn mad, too," Manatee County Tourist Development Council (TDC) member and Island restaurateur Ed Chiles said. "If 20 percent of those people are loud, that's the equivalent of blockbusting in my mind."

"We've got to be good stewards and we've got to protect the goose (that laid the golden egg), and the goose is the beaches," Chiles said.


The worst example of the redevelopment is a 12-bedroom, eight-bath duplex with two pools that replaced a four-bedroom, three-bath home in Holmes Beach, Peelen said. She added that she has been unable to persuade the commission to place a moratorium on rentals.

"We've looked at it and it's not going to happen," Holmes Beach Commission Chair David Zaccagnino said. "You can't just stop rentals, you have to stop all building."

"I'm shocked," Chiles said. "I'm a big property rights guy, but why in the world would you allow one more of these? If you have to do a moratorium, it's up to you to stop."

"We are marketing the character of the Island and we don't want the character of this Island to go away," TDC Chair Carol Whitmore said.

"Turning homes into rentals is wrong," said TDC member David Teitelbaum, an Island resort operator, calling for better code enforcement, and consequences for "outlaw" property owners who don't have business licenses.

Island cities are struggling to respond to vacation rental problems, Zaccagnino said, with Holmes Beach setting up five committees this month to address code enforcement, permitting and other issues.

Island Real Estate and Island Accommodations are giving Holmes Beach police a list of their rental units so police know who to contact and ticket when rental problems are reported, TDC member and Holmes Beach Commissioner Sandy Haas-Martens said.

Record year

The discussion came on the heels of record-breaking news – nearly half a million tourists visited Manatee County in 2011 with an economic impact of half a billion dollars, according to the county's tourism consultant, Walter Klages, of Research Data Services. Occupancy was up 9.5 percent in 2011 over the previous year, he added.

This year's numbers may exceed 2011, according to casual observations by Island business owners and residents, who say there are more people, and earlier, than usual. The peak of tourist season on the Island is generally mid-March.

"We just started season and people are already griping they wish the season was over," Zaccagnino said.

"We need help from the county and the TDC," he said, adding that 60 percent of county resort tax funds originate on the Island.

Resort taxes paid by tourists to owners of short-term accommodations of less than six months generate the county's $3.9 million tourism budget, allocated by the Manatee County Commission with recommendations from the TDC. Three million dollars of this year's budget is allocated to the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) to advertise and market the county online, on television and in newspapers and magazines in the U.S., Canada and Europe.

Marketing efforts

Responding to concerns that tourism promoters should scale back marketing efforts, CVB Director Elliott Falcione said that the Manatee County Commission sets policy and has charged the CVB with creating awareness of the destination, while individual property owners, rental agents and management companies advertise their rentals independently.

Slowing down on marketing could mean losing momentum that may never be regained, he said, adding that the half a billion dollars in economic impact from tourism allows municipalities to operate.

News of the Island's vacation rental problems has reached the New York Times, Falcione said, adding, "Anytime you have negative comments about tourism, that doesn't go well with visitors."

CVB Marketing Director Debbie Meihls told the TDC that on Feb. 1, the CVB began a Republican National Convention marketing campaign. The convention is scheduled in Tampa Aug. 27-30.

"We will lure them down to our county," she said.

Roser seeks cell tower
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

Pat copeland | Sun
Roser Memorial Community Church on Pine Avenue
is one possible site for a cell tower in Anna Maria.


ANNA MARIA – Members of Roser Memorial Community Church sent a letter to Mayor Mike Selby last week asking that the church be considered as the site of a cell tower.

According to Building Official Bob Welch, a cell tower must be located in a public/semi-public district. The church is in a public/semi-public district.

"We are requesting that we be provided copies of the new cell tower zoning codes as soon as they are available," said the letter signed by Jim Bennington, chair of stewardship and finance, and Major Leckie, chair of trustees.

"We would also like to be advised as to what actions we need to take to construct a cell tower on the Roser property."

"I think everybody's throwing their hat in the ring," Mayor Mike Selby said. "I have my mayor's hat on, and I'll do what's best for the city. Maybe it should be on city property so the taxpayers can benefit."

A church spokesperson did not respond to a request for a comment.

Last year, the Center for Municipal Solutions reviewed the city's cell tower ordinance and offered suggestions for revisions. Last week, commissioners set a work session for Thursday, Feb. 16, to discuss the ordinance.

Members of the board of directors of the Island Community Center are also actively pursuing a tower. Last month the board voted to execute a contract with a cell tower provider in hopes that the city commission would act on it.

Dredged sand renourishing pier beach
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story


ANNA MARIA – Sand dredged from Key Royale Pass is being used to renourish both sides of the beach at the Anna Maria City Pier.

The dredging got underway Friday after pipes were installed and turbidity screens were put in place on pilings offshore.

"Dredging will last about four days, depending on the weather," said Matthew Dearth, of Florida Dredge and Dock. "There will be about 5,600 to 5,700 cubic yards of sand."

Dearth pointed to stakes with pink ribbons tied to them in the water offshore and said the sand would go out that far.

"WCIND (West Coast Inland Navigation District) tested the sand to make sure it is beach quality," explained Public Works Director George McKay, who was watching the work get started Friday.

The city's permits from the Army Corps of Engineers and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for the periodic dredging of Lake LaVista were modified to include the Key Royale dredging. McKay said.

McKay said residences along North and South Bay Boulevards would not receive any of the dredged sand. He said the sand stockpiled at Bayfront Park by the humpback bridge has nothing to do with the dredging. It is from swimming pools being built in the city and is used for sandbags.

Pat Copeland | Sun
Sand and water spew from a pipe that comes from the dredge
seen in the distance at the right. The sand from Key Royale
Pass will fill in the eroded beach on both sides of the
Anna Maria City Pier.

City's annual report favorable
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

Cindy Lane | Sun
Birdie Tebbetts Field is a gathering place for dogs
and their owners to socialize most afternoons.

HOLMES BEACH – The city is in good shape, according to the annual report presented by Mayor Rich Bohnenberger to the Holmes Beach Commission last week.

Taxes have not increased in four consecutive years, he said, adding that the city is debt free and maintains a healthy reserve of funds.

A new public works building was completed and 10 percent of the roadways in the city were resurfaced last year with funds from the gasoline tax.

The state Department of Transportation funded and installed sidewalks along Manatee Avenue and East Bay Drive at no cost to the city.

Trees were planted at Kingfish boat ramp with an $18,350 Forestry Service grant.

A pavilion was constructed at city hall park, and other infrastructure improvements include the 63rd Street boat ramp and a footbridge connecting the park behind Regions Bank to the trail system to the south. Drainage improvements include 62nd Street and 72nd to 74th Streets and are ongoing.

Sandpiper gate

The commission discussed the ongoing dispute over the gate in a fence between Holmes Beach and Bradenton Beach at the Sandpiper Resort.

The portion of the property in dispute is not part of Sandpiper's mortgage held by Cadence Bank, City Attorney Patricia Petruff said, opening the way for Sandpiper to follow the suggestion of Holmes Beach to quitclaim the northern 30 feet of the 50-foot right of way on 27th Street back to Bradenton Beach, and remove "no trespassing" signs and the gate.

The commission voted in October to initiate a dispute resolution proceeding against Bradenton Beach to address the loss of public access of Holmes Beach residents caused by the gate.

Petruff said the argument now appears to be between Holmes Beach and Sandpiper.

Outdoor dining

A discussion about whether Martini Bistro/Fins has too many outdoor dining seats was continued to the next commission meeting, Tuesday, Feb. 28 at 7 p.m. at City Hall.

Eight seats currently are allowed, Commission Chair David Zaccagnino said, with additional seats possible with city approval.

Manatee County Commission Chair Carol Whitmore said restaurant owners requested her to raise the issue, as Fins appears to have enclosed indoor dining with more than eight seats.

Vacation rentals

Five committees chaired by commissioners are being organized to discuss solutions to vacation rental problems (see related story).

Commissioners are looking for ways to put teeth into the city's regulations for rentals owners and agents who don't comply with city ordinances, Zaccagnino said.

The public is invited to all committee meetings; the next two are scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 14 at 1 p.m. and Wednesday, Feb. 15 at 9 a.m., both at Holmes Beach City Hall.

Birdie Tebbetts Field

Commissioners discussed baseball and dog park usage of Birdie Tebbetts Field.

The city's solution so far, to remove a confusing sign, has left dog owners in the same position they were before, subject to being asked to leave by anyone playing ball, Commissioner Jean Peelen said.

The city should investigate the cost of Zaccagnino's idea to split the park with a fence, Commissioner John Monetti said.

"We can't have mixed use," due to liability reasons, Zaccagnino said.

Peelen said she does not advocate mixed use, but has suggested having ball teams register with the city and post the date and time of their games so dog owners know when they can use the field.

A chalkboard has been posted at the field for reservations.

Board discusses fees, use and parking on six lots

ANNA MARIA – During a lengthy discussion on the six lots the city purchased last year at the corner of Pine Avenue and North Bay Boulevard, commissioners made one decision last week – to eliminate parking there.

Commissioner Dale Woodland made the suggestion stating, "I think we should shut it tomorrow. People are getting used to using it."

Chair Chuck Webb said they talked about allowing it on the periphery. Commissioner SueLynn said she thought they agreed to allow it just on the Pine Avenue side.

Commissioner Jo Ann Mattick suggested directing people to park at Bayfront Park, but Public Works Supervisor George McKay said people would park at Roser Church and Bayview Plaza instead.

"The city pier is the number one attraction on the Island," Commissioner John Quam pointed out. "I think we should give them more parking."

Webb said they should give the pier tenant notice before closing it, and Mattick said closing it during season is a bad idea and would create problems for the whole area.

Commissioners agreed on May 1 as the date to close the lots to parking, to take the sign down that indicates pier parking and to notify the pier tenant in writing about the decision.

Former Commissioner Gene Aubry volunteered to draw a parking plan for the area, and commissioners accepted offer.

Regarding fees for the property's use, Webb said they should treat all organizations the same.

"Profit for the city, utilities, a bond to cover damage and additional costs to the city – those are the things we would want to capture," he said.

Woodland said they should decide on the uses before adopting a fee schedule.

"We have two events coming up – Food and Wine on Pine and Bayfest. They need to know whether they can have that space," SueLynn stressed.

Webb asked staff to find out what fees the county charges for its facilities.

During the discussion, Mayor Mike Selby suggested moving the horseshoe pits to the six lots. However, commissioners agreed that Bayfront Park would be a better location.


Local author inspired by Cortez

CORTEZ – The mythical fishing village of DeSoto in author J.B. Crawford's new young adult book, "Nathan and the Stone Crabs," is not Cortez, he insists.

Never mind that Cortez probably should have been named DeSoto, since Spanish explorer Hernando DeSoto landed nearby and Spanish explorer Hernando Cortez did not.

Never mind that the tale of a teenager and his grandfather paints portraits of Cortez waterways, including the Kitchen in Sarasota Bay, as accurately as a navigational chart, or that Karenia Brevis bears a close resemblance to a village fish house manager.

The jibes are in good fun, and the story is a good primer in the nuts and bolts of commercial fishing; it's educational, but by the time the reader realizes it, the story has taken hold.

Villagers will recognize aspects of several local residents in the vivid characters in Crawford's novel, the first in a young adult series he plans on different aspects of fishing.

With nine grandchildren, Crawford, a Cortez resident, has eight more to go to feature each of the kids in adventures in bait fishing, shrimping and more.

A retired high school English teacher, Harvard doctor, Army Reserve colonel and commercial fishing captain, Crawford is partly the grandfather and partly the deckhand in the book, teaching young Nathan how to build, bait, set and clear stone crab traps on a summer visit.

The teen at first resents having to leave urban Los Angeles for his mother's backwoods birthplace, but leaves as much a native as his grandfather after adventures at sea teach him about life, death and love.

True village tales abound, like the story of women who waded with washtubs tied around their waists, using glass-bottomed boxes to find scallops and scooping them into the washtubs with wire scoops tied to broom handles.

Tales accepted as true are retold, like the favorite story that during the Great Depression, no one in the village accepted any government handouts.

Crawford gets political, too, with rants against both the 1994 net ban and the practice of stop netting, which "verged on criminal abuse of public resources." He tells a tale of stop netters dynamiting the sleeping porch of a fisherman who spoke out against the practice, missing the lucky guy, who was in the outhouse at the time.

And he perpetuates local customs, like tossing loose change toward the Longboat channel marker to ensure a safe trip home.

From environmental lessons to stories about Prohibition rum runners to hands-on best fishing practices, the book that's not about Cortez is a rich treasury of local lore that begs for the next in the series.

The book is available at and Barnes and Noble, and as an e-book on Kindle. It also will be available at the Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival on Feb 18 and 19.

AMISUN ~ The Island's Award-Winning Newspaper