By Angela Collins
If you love seafood and want to savor a taste of Florida’s history, then you don’t want to miss the 36th annual Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival, February 17-18, in the fishing village of Cortez.
For one weekend each February, this resilient fishing village opens its doors to thousands of visitors to share the proud history and culture of one of Florida’s last true working waterfronts.
In addition to sampling fresh local seafood, visitors can get their groove on with local musicians, feed their hunger for nautical arts and crafts, get up close and personal with local marine life in a touch tank for kids of all ages, and listen to fish facts from Florida Sea Grant biologists during “Dock Talks.”
History buffs can tour the Florida Maritime Museum and the newly renovated and lovingly restored Cortez Cultural Center. Don’t forget to visit the F.I.S.H. Boatworks to see vessel craftsmanship at its finest – you can even enter a raffle to win one of their beautiful, custom-built boats.
Proceeds from festival sales are funneled directly back into the community. In 2000, a community-wide effort spearheaded by the Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage (F.I.S.H.) purchased a tract of 100 acres of Sarasota Bay shoreline adjacent to the village. The acquisition, known as the F.I.S.H. Preserve, protects the sensitive mangroves, wetlands and upland habitats that are critical to many of the species supporting Cortez’ fishing economy. It is one of the largest undeveloped stretches of land on Sarasota Bay.
The purchase of the preserve land – then and now – is funded primarily through proceeds of the festival. This year marks the year that F.I.S.H. was finally able to negotiate the purchase of a key parcel of land strategically located in the center of the Preserve. This purchase unifies the property and will allow restoration efforts and continued conservation of this land to move forward.
Celebrating the Community’s Heritage
The Festival is an annual celebration of the Cortez way of life and allows attendees to experience a place that is truly unique. Take a trip back in time and wander the working waterfront that is Cortez. Be proud to be part of an effort to protect habitat and an important piece of Florida’s history.
Settled by fishermen from North Carolina in the late 1800s, Cortez is a community steeped in fishing heritage. Its people have withstood hurricanes, wars, recessions and storms of regulations. The village has had to adapt to shifting sands – but the perseverance and grit of the people have never wavered. Today it remains a true testament to the “real” Florida.
It’s appropriate, therefore, that this year’s festival theme is “Rooted in History.”
This region has supplied bountiful seafood to humans for thousands of years. Fishing here is good for a reason. Nestled among mangroves on Sarasota Bay, Cortez is positioned between two nationally accredited estuaries. However, like so much of Florida, Cortez faces threats associated with an increasing human population and ever-encroaching development. But unlike so much of Florida, where similar places have simply been swallowed by the concrete, Cortez has been fighting back.
2018 Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival
When: February 17 – 18, 10am-6pm
Where: 4415 119th St. W., Cortez, FL 34215.
Admission: $4.00, kids under 12 free. All proceeds go to the FISH Preserve.
More Info: cortez-fish.org