Fishing festival is catch of the day

Area residents will enjoy the sights and familiar smells this weekend during the annual Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival. The festival is the gem of this tiny fishing community, tucked away just east of the Cortez Bridge. It celebrates the two things many Floridians love — a lush fishing area and fresh seafood.“Primarily, people are interested in the Village of Cortez and its history,” said Ted Adams, administrator for the Florida Maritime Museum in Cortez, on why people are drawn to the festival. “And it always brings about a lot of people for a lot of fun.”Cortez is known for its fishing, fishermen, fish markets, small bungalows and the assortment of commercial boats seen on its shoreline. It’s a piece of old Florida that tourists and residents alike have treasured.The festival is from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Attractions include art and museum displays, a variety of seafood, music and activities for the whole family. “They get to walk around and see all the fishing boats, shrimp boats,” said Capt. Kathe Fannon, a fourth generation Cortez commercial fisher. “They get to learn the true knowledge of what the fishermen do here — how we operate. They actually get to talk to the fisherman about what they do and how we’re doing it.”The 47-year-old Bradenton resident fishes with her husband and 72-year-old father. She takes pride in the fact that Cortez has existed for more than 100 years and is the last remaining fishing village in operation in the state of Florida. “When you talk about old Florida, everybody comes here,” Fannon said. “During the Depression, we were the only industry that survived. We fed our people. We still feed our people.” Along with a celebration of the fishing industry and its history here, the festival will feature a small assortment of musical guests, including the Richard Culbreath Group, the Manatee River Bluegrass Band and the Gumbo Boogie Band.There also will be a Cortez Crab Cookoff with an awards ceremony Saturday.This year’s theme is “Claws,” as in the stone crab kind. Money collected from the event will benefit the Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage (F.I.S.H.) Preserve. The preserve allows the natural habitat and its fresh seafood to continue to thrive, which in turn will support the commercial fishing industry. Though the fishing industry as a whole has taken a hit because of bad economic conditions, Adams said he hopes Cortez Village will make it through the tough times so that fishing families like the Fannons can continue to provide fresh seafood to the region along with a rich history. The festival began in 1981 as a one-day event that attracted 500 people. Since then, it has expanded to a two-day festival, drawing more than 20,000 guests, according to fishnews.org/festival.January Holmes, features writer, can be reached at 745-7057.

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