Mannix About Manatee: Judge's ruling stirs hope for Cortez grandmother

October 27, 2013 

Plum Taylor spread butter on a slice of banana bread a neighbor brought over, poured a cup of coffee and sat down.

Sunlight streamed through the big living room window overlooking Sarasota Bay and the docks and fishing boats, their to and fro a constant in all her years in what she likes to call that "big ol' shanty" at the end of 123rd Street West in the Cortez fishing village.

The 78-year-old matriarch had just heard about a Leon County judge's decision to overturn the gill net ban that has been the bane of every Cortezian's life and livelihood for the past two decades.

Hers and late husband Alcee's included.

They'd poured themselves into the fight against the 1995 ballot amendment that brought about the ban and lost, a sting that lingers still.

So word of last week's development in the Panhandle was a most welcome omen.

"It's a start," Plum said. "If we get the nets back, Alcee would be ecstatic."

What happens as this issue goes forward will bear watching.

State Attorney General Pam Bondi appealed the judge's ruling on behalf of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, so Cortez fishermen won't be dragging out gill nets just yet.

Undoubtedly, it will reignite the territorial battle between the state's commercial fishermen and the sports fishing industry.

On the other hand, it should spur a review of the amendment's probity, particularly concerning the impact it had on fishing communities like Cortez, their culture and their heritage.

A heritage defined by people such as Plum and Alcee Taylor, a gracious

couple proud of their lineage.

An 18-year-old Georgia farm girl, she met and married Alcee, who was driving a truck for a shrimp company in Jacksonville. He took her back to his native Cortez.

It was 1952.

Alcee went to work fishing with Blue and Tink Fulford, a family name whose roots are intertwined with Cortez's distinctive history.

"Tink was the granddaddy of them all, a good fisherman and everybody wanted to fish with him," Plum said. "He treated his guys fair and when you worked for Tink you worked."

It paid off handsomely when the open season for mullet began.

Thanksgiving was near, the weather was cold and Plum was pregnant with their first child, Jean Ann, now in Merritt Island.

"I remember the first night they came in with that load of fish," she said. "I never saw so many fish. It looked like the whole of Cortez was covered in fish -- the boats, the docks. It was amazing.

"They weren't getting but three, four cents a pound for them back then, but the money from that fish paid for our first child -- doctor bills, everything. Can you imagine that?"

Not in this day and age.

Alcee is gone now -- he passed in 2011 -- but his spirit is ever present in the rambling, yet cozy house they've lovingly shared with family and friends and cats for more than a half-century.

Hollywood shot 1998's "Great Expectations" there, too.

Plum has so many grandchildren and great-grandchildren she jokes that she can't remember the number.

But she knows what the gill net ban reversal would mean to them, and other young folks in Cortez, if it holds up in court.

"They would be able follow in their father's and grandfather's footsteps," Plum said. "That would be wonderful for me, to see them go back out and fish like their ancestors."

Outside, a fishing boat glided by, green nets spilling over its gunwales.

Plum Taylor watched quietly, sipping her coffee.

Mannix About Manatee, by columnist Vin Mannix, is about people and issues in Manatee County. Call Vin at 941-745-7055. Twitter: @vinmannix

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