If you’ve enjoyed the Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival in the past, you’re going to enjoy it again this year.
“Everything is pretty much the same,” festival official John Stevely said. “We don’t mess with success. We have a good recipe and we just try to fine-tune it every year.”
The 36th annual festival is set for Saturday and Sunday in Cortez Fishing Village.
The fine-tuning this year consisted of ramping up the quality the festival’s popular “dock talks.” The dock talks are short, informational presentations about this area’s marine life and history. They’re continuous and usually only a few minutes long. Festival-goers take a quick break from the music, food and more frivolous festival activities to learn a little something about their food and the history of Manatee County’s fishing community.
“The festival has an educational purpose too,” Stevely said.
We don’t mess with success. We have a good recipe and we just try to fine-tune it every year.
This year’s speakers are are heavyweights in the marine biology community, Stevely said. They include Dr. Angels Collins, an expert on reef fish and grouper, and Dr. Theresa Bert, an expert on crabs and shrimps.
“She can answer all your questions about stone crabs,” Stevely said. He adds the most common questions people ask at the dock talks concern the sex life of marine animals.
Stevely, a retired marine biologist, is on the board of directors of the Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage (FISH) Preserve. The Cortez Commercial Fishing festival is the biggest fundraiser of the year for FISH, and this is an especially important year for FISH to be raising funds.
“Last year we acquired the last parcel of land for the preserve,” he said. “So we have an extra bill to pay.”
The preserve includes almost 100 acres of land and mangrove wetland habitat along the Sarasota Bay shoreline. There was one small parcel of less than an acre, in the center of the preserve that the institute had not been able to buy. It was a small but essential piece, because if the owner had built a home on it, he would have been able to build an access road through the environmentally sensitive preserve. The owner of the property demanded what Stevely said was an exorbitant price (“We were being held for ransom,” Stevely said), but the institute finally negotiated a price it could live with.
I always call it a party with a purpose.
But he knows that the thousands of people who look forward to the Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival every year are there not to provide funds but to enjoy a day of seafood, live music and historic surroundings. This year’s festival will have as much of all that as ever before.
Besides the food and music, festival goers can browse the historic village, visit the Florida Maritime Museum and stop into the Cortez Cultural Center.
Admission is still just $4, and free for children under 12.
Manatee County Area Transit will provide a shuttle from the remote parking areas at G.T. Bray Park's west entrance off 59th Street West, and from the Coquina Beach bus turn-around. The cash fare is $1.50 for each boarding. Discounts are available to anyone age 60 and older, and to veterans. Anyone 80 or older can ride free.
“It’s the best deal in town,” Stevely said. “A family of four can attend very affordably.”
And that admission price, besides providing a full day of fun, helps protect the Bradenton area’s sensitive and essential marine environment.
“I always call it a party with a purpose,” Stevely said.
Details: Feb. 17-18, Cortez Fishing Village. $4; children under 12 free. 10 a.m-6 p.m. Saturday, 10:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday, 941-254-4972, cortez-fish.org. Shuttle: There are remote parking areas at G.T. Bray Park, 5502 33rd Ave. Dr. W., at Coquina Beach Bradenton. ($1.50 one way, $3 round trip).