CORTEZ – Karen Bell, manager of A.P. Bell Fish Co., is Manatee County’s Agriculturist of the Year.
The Manatee County native was surprised with the honor at the county’s Farm-City Week Kiwanis luncheon on Nov. 19 at the Manatee Performing Arts Center.
“I was invited to give a presentation on the mullet fishing industry,” Bell said, adding that she expected Scott Moore to receive the honor. The local charter boat captain was instead named to the Agriculture Hall of Fame.
“I was shocked,” Bell said. “They told my family and nobody told me.”
Bell was recognized for her lifelong community service protecting coastal and native habitat and spearheading historic preservation in the fishing village of Cortez.
She was a founding member of FISH, the Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage, and the lead negotiator on the purchase of the 100-acre FISH Preserve east of the village. Bell also has served as chair of the annual Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival, which raises funds to support the FISH Preserve.
Bell also serves on local and national boards representing the fishing industry and gives tours of the packinghouse founded by her grandfather, A.P. Bell.
After gill nets were banned 20 years ago in Florida, mullet landings fell by at least half, according to the narrative provided by the committee that elected Bell: “Through her creative thinking, sheer determination and willingness to take risks, she was ultimately able to grow her business interests through diversification. Her business leadership and example instilled others with courage to take similar risks as the community was weathered each challenge.”
Bell said her father discouraged her from coming back home to Cortez after completing college and serving an internship with IBM, warning her about increasing regulations and tough fishermen. She eventually took over the business from him.
“Dad would be proud,” she said. “I think he’d be proud I stuck it out here.”