CORTEZ -- Squid fries, marine wildlife and nautical arts and crafts were some of the highlights during the first day of the 30th annual Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival on Saturday.
The festival, which continues from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. today, celebrates Cortez’s long-standing heritage.
“It just brings the whole community, not just the village, but all of Cortez together,” said Julie Leniz of Cortez. She has been coming to the festival for about 14 years.
Near the bay, pools called “touch tanks” were surrounded by people as they peered in to watch the sea creatures lurking inside.
Michael Ibasfalean, 17, was among the volunteers explaining to the crowd what kind of crustaceans were displayed.
There were spotted leopard crabs, spider crabs, hermit crabs, conchs and many more. “We can go on for a long time,” he said, smiling.
Spectators are allowed to pet the wildlife. All of the animals have been declawed, Ibasfalean said. “Everything is safe to touch.”
Reactions vary. “Yucky,” said a little girl as someone pulled up one of the pool’s inhabitants. But 6-year-old Kevin O’Keefe couldn’t stay away. He circled one of the concrete pools, weaving in and out of the crowd.
Kevin would dive his hands into the water and pet the crustaceans. “If they start attacking me, I just drop them,” he explained. His favorite? “I like them all.”
His dad, Tom O’Keefe, watched a few feet away. “This can keep him busy all day,” he said. The family is visiting from Chicago.
The festival also featured a variety of foods from local and out-of-town vendors. Among them was Ocean Harvest Grill & Market, in the 5100 block of Manatee Avenue West.
Dishes included smoked mullet spread, squid fries (served with a sauce made from 35 ingredients) and clam chowder. All the fish used to prepare the dishes are local, except for the squid, which is fished from the Gulf of California, off the western coast of Mexico.
“Ironic, I guess,” said Steve Carrera, assistant chef.
Several arts and crafts vendors were at the signature event, including local vendors such as Thomas Williams.
Williams was selling beach glass items. An array of pendants in different colors -- including black, white, green and orange -- were displayed on a table.
Williams said he finds a lot of the glass while scuba diving near sandbars off Anna Maria Island. “It’s pretty cool. It’s a lot of fun,” he said.
Admission to the festival is $3 and children younger than 12 can go in free of charge. The festival is off Cortez Road on 119th Street West.
All the proceeds will go toward purchasing 95 acres of environmentally sensitive mangrove wetlands just east of the village, known as The FISH Preserve.
Festivalgoers also have access to the Florida Maritime Museum at Cortez. The museum was founded about seven years ago, said museum volunteer John McDonald.
It is housed inside the old Cortez Rural Graded School. Old photographs, boats and other mementoes from the area’s past are displayed inside the rooms where classes were once held.
McDonald has been a volunteer since the museum’s inception. As he walks through the rooms, he points at a photograph, circa 1908, of a group of children. A little boy wearing a black hat is his father, McDonald said. Another photograph, dated 1934, shows a baby sitting in a boat. The baby is McDonald.
“You got a lot of the past Cortez has here,” he said.--