Seaside communities are an integral part of both Florida’s past and future, and nowhere is this more evident than in the historical village of Cortez, one of the last intact fishing villages on Florida’s Gulf Coast.
Each year, Cortez residents celebrate the unique appeal of their working waterfront with the Cortez Fishing Festival, a two-day event that gives visitors the opportunity to learn more about commercial fishing and its heritage in Florida. Despite factors that have reduced the commercial harvest, the festival showcases how a number of industrious fishermen carry on to preserve the community’s proud heritage.
Proceeds from each year’s festival support the purchase of 95 acres of mangrove wetlands immediately east of the village, the Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage Preserve, one of the last few undeveloped shorelines found in Sarasota Bay. Funding also supports restoring impacted wetlands, restoring the Cortez 1912 School House and developing a maritime museum.
Village Listed on National Registry
Cortez, originally called Hunter’s Point, has been a commercial fishing center since the Spanish colonial era. In the late 19th century, a group of North Carolina fishermen migrated to Cortez and helped establish the fishing community that exists today.
The 110-year-old community, with its 97 historic buildings, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and typifies the challenges that Florida’s coastal communities face as they try to balance present problems with future desires.
Cortez families are proud of their heritage, and are bound together by love of hard work and love of family. The history of the village and its families has been preserved in a recently published book “Cortez-Then and Now” by Mary Fulford Green and Linda Molto.
The first Cortez post office was established in 1895. A hurricane in 1921 destroyed the waterfront, but the industrious residents were able to rebuild. The fishing industry thrived for more than 100 years. Mullet, trout, redfish, mackerel, pompano were harvested by inshore net fishermen. Offshore fisherman targeted grouper, snapper and a variety of reef fish. Small quantities of shrimp, stone crab and blue crab were also produced.
However, pollution, habitat destruction and commercial and recreational harvest have affected the productivity of local waters. The result has been increased regulations and consequently reduced commercial harvest. Mullet, a locally important fish, can now only be harvested by hand-thrown cast nets. Larger nets are now prohibited.
The 2010 Festival is being held Feb. 20-21, but the village is a charming tourist destination at any time of the year. A video documentary about Cortez has been developed by the Florida Humanities Council and can be viewed at this link: In Their Own Words: Perseverance and Resilience in Two Florida Fishing Communities.