By LEE WILLIAMS, Correspondent
Published: Thursday, February 16, 2012 at 12:34 p.m.
Artist Jerry Secton of Baltimore came down a few days early for the 30th Annual Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival.
Buy PhotoPhoto by Carla Varisco-Williams
CORTEZ – The fishing village of Cortez is a portal to another time, a living history museum of sorts.
The village’s 1.5 square miles are home to more than 100 self-reliant fishermen who still pull their mullet, grouper and stone crab from the sea as they have done for more than 130 years, despite dwindling fisheries and increasingly stringent government regulations.
The village’s rich history and its relationship with the sea will be on display this weekend for the 30th annual Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival 2012. The theme of this year’s festival: “There’s something fishy in Cortez.”
More than 50 vendors will sell everything from seafood to arts and crafts. The event will also feature live music, touch tanks, guided shoreline tours, face painting and a bucking mechanical shark ride.
“This is really a unique event. It’s not a chamber of commerce putting on a seafood festival in a parking lot,” said John Stevely, one of the festival organizers. “It’s a festival with a mission of celebrating this working waterfront heritage.”
Proceeds will benefit the Florida Institute of Saltwater Heritage (FISH) and its 95-acre environmentally-sensitive fish preserve located along Sarasota Bay. Some of the proceeds will also help pay to restore a historic church, said FISH president Kim McVey.
“Typically, this is how we get through the year,” McVey said. “It’s a lot of fun. There’s awareness of the commercial fishing industry and the historic village. Together, there’s a lot that goes with it.”
Cortez has always been a self-sufficient community, which many say is the reason the village has survived hurricanes, wars and depressions. They do not need much in terms of outside resources.
“There’s nothing that can come at them that they can’t overcome when they come together,” said Karen Riley-Love, who manages the Florida Maritime Museum at Cortez, which occupies a 1912 schoolhouse.
Riley-Love, who has lived in the village with her family for eight years, is the unofficial keeper of the rich history that will be displayed this weekend. What she lacks in institutional knowledge, given her brief residency, is more than made up for by her volunteer staff.
That includes John McDonald, 79, who was born and raised in Cortez. McDonald helped secure an 80-year-old pole skiff for the museum, built by renowned Cortez boat builder N.E. Taylor. The skiff, equipped with a cotton net complete with Spanish cork floats, will be on display during the festival.
“This is the only one left that Taylor himself built,” McDonald said. “It’s pretty special.”
For Stevely, the fishing festival is more than just a good time — it is a way to help keep Old Florida alive.
“This is a very important community event. It celebrates the commercial fishing heritage of Cortez, one of the last-remaining fishing villages in Florida settled in the 1880s,” Stevely said. “It’s quite amazing. You can turn off a road in Bradenton and enter old-time Cracker Florida.”