Updated Feb. 23, 2019 – CORTEZ – The 37th Annual Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival drew 15,000 lovers of all things nautical last weekend thanks to good weather, good food, good music and good fun.
The two-day event raises money to restore and enlarge the FISH (Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage) Preserve east of the Cortez commercial fishing village, a federal historic district.
Visitors took in the sights, like jewelry made from coquina shells, metal sculptures of fish and other nautical art, and listened to live music by local bands, including two Cortezians, Eric Von and Soupy Davis, and the Shanty Singers.
The Museum and the nearby Cortez Cultural Center welcomed visitors with exhibits on seashells, historic boats and the history of Cortez and its fishing families.
Kids rode ponies, had their faces painted and bounced on trampolines while attached to bungee cords.
Service awards were presented to festival volunteers Ardith Black and Joe Egolf, and Robin Schock won the community service award. Patricia (Pattycakes) Banyas was presented with the pioneer award; she attended the Cortez Rural Graded School that is now the Florida Maritime Museum “in bare feet,” she said.
As white pelicans skimmed Sarasota Bay at the docks at Cortez Bait and Seafood, John Stevely and Angela Collins showed visitors the different types of fish caught locally, gave some perspective on the 1995 gill net ban that drastically reduced mullet fishing in Florida and answered questions about commercial fishing.
The festival featured the blessing of the commercial fishing fleet and dock loads of seafood for visitors to enjoy.
The past six months have been especially tough for Cortez fishermen with a long-lasting red tide bloom that killed huge populations of local fish, as well as dolphins, manatees and seabirds.
It’s not the only difficulty fishing families have faced.
Despite fishing regulations, runaway development, overpopulation, pollution, mangrove destruction and foreign seafood imports, the Cortez commercial fishing tradition has survived, as portrayed by artist Rose Lipke’s 2019 festival logo, an octopus juggling all the issues in the face of “Changing Tides.”