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Captain: Derelict boats looming issue

CORTEZ – Tour boat Capt. Kathe Fannon is questioning why authorities are focusing on the removal of Raymond “Junior” Guthrie’s net camp from the waters off Cortez while ignoring more than 20 derelict boats in the same waters.

“The net camp is who we are, it’s our heritage,” said Fannon, a fourth-generation Cortezian. “The issue is there are 21 vessels sitting out there. They’re not registered, some have no motors or lights, and nobody is doing anything about it, but they want our net camp down.”

A civil suit against Guthrie was filed on Feb. 6, 2018 in the 12th Judicial Circuit Court when the Florida Department of Environmental Protection claimed that he had constructed an unauthorized enclosed docking structure on sovereign submerged lands in Sarasota Bay, and asked the court for its removal.

Guthrie maintained that his family previously had a net camp in that spot and the structure was protected under the 1921 Butler Act, which awards title of submerged lands to adjacent waterfront property owners who made permanent improvements on the submerged lands.

Net camps are wooden shacks used by fishermen in days past to hang hemp and cotton fishing nets to dry. According to historic photographs, there were once dozens of net camps on Sarasota Bay off Cortez.

On May 7, Judge Edward Nicholas ordered Guthrie to remove the structure within 120 days, making the deadline Sept. 4.

A request to FDEP by The Sun for comment about the process for removing the structure received no response by press time.

“There are also four boats sunk out there. They’re a hazard to navigation and leaking oil and nobody is getting them out of there,” Fannon said. “How are you going to let those boats sit out there when they’re a hazard and an eyesore and the net camp, which is historical to Cortez, has to come down?”

Fannon said she has seen boats from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), the U.S. Coast Guard and the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office in the area, so she said local law enforcement agencies are aware of the derelict vessels.

FWC defines a derelict vessel as one that is wrecked, junked or in substantially dismantled condition in any state waters.

Fannon said seven of the boats moored off the coast of Cortez are being rented out by one individual.

“Bradenton Beach made every one of those people leave,” Fannon said. “And now they’ve moved over to the historical fishing village.”

Captain: Derelict boats looming issue
A historical aerial photograph of Cortez shows multiple net camps off the village’s coast. – Submitted | Manatee County Public Library Historical Image Digital Collection

Bradenton Beach has strict enforcement policies regarding derelict boats in their harbor, and the city’s enforcement extends 500 feet out from shore. The boats off the coast of Cortez are moored beyond that enforcement area and fall under the jurisdiction of the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office for tagging and then under FWC’s authority for removal.

Another local boat captain who asked not to be identified said, “There is one lady who has been collecting abandoned boats and renting them out. They (the boats) are coming from Bradenton Beach now, people are bringing their boats from the anchorage to the mangrove island” off Cortez.

He said there are two boats with trash tied up in the mangroves, along with an unregistered boat that sank two years ago.

“Every agency I’ve sent messages to can’t do anything. I can report to FWC. All they do is, if they find who’s dumping trash, is write a citation. Does not fix anything. They don’t sticker abandoned boats,” he said. “FWC can only get in here on a high tide.”

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