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Date of Issue: January 30, 2008

'Net Working,' working nets at Cortez

All sorts of nets used by commercial fishermen will provide a brand new feature at the Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival Feb. 16 and 17.

The waterfront fair will take up much of the historic fishing village at the mainland end of the Cortez Bridge to Anna Maria Island. A lot of music will fill the air and a lot of art will fill booths, and there will be all kinds and quantities of food to fill folks up.

The festival will open at 10 a.m. both Saturday and Sunday and wind up at 6 p.m. In those hours, some 20,000 people are expected to swarm through the little village, contributing $60,000 or more to the nature preserve at the east end of Cortez.

The newest addition to the life of the festival is still in the organization stage, said Karen Bell, treasurer of the village’s core Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage, sponsor and beneficiary of the festival. FISH bought the 95-acre FISH Preserve with donations and funds from past festivals, and proceeds from this one will go toward purchase of the few lots still in private hands within the Preserve.

The net display is planned for the old Fulford Fish House on the waterfront, and it will feature working nets, incidentally playing on the festival’s theme, “Net Working.”

These working nets will come from Walter and Calvin Bell, brothers in the family that owns and operates A.P. Bell Fish Co. just down the shore from the Fulford Fish House. They will include purse seines that close like a purse in the water to trap fish, which is then hauled aboard one of the many big fishboats that tie up at Bell and along the harbor.

And gillnets, which catch fish by the gills. They are then shucked from the net and hauled aboard the boat. Both the nets and the methods are outlawed in Florida waters now by a net ban approved in a statewide referendum in 1994.

Thomas “Blue” Fulford, lifelong Cortezian and a commercial fishing advocate and successful commercial fisherman until losing a leg in an accident aboard his boat, will show the ancient craft of making cast nets. He probably will be next door to Fulford on the historic rebuilt Miller dock.

Other “newness” in 120-year-old old Cortez will be three snazzy new ticket booths, fishboat cabin replicas built by craftsmen in the boatbuilding program in the Cortez Community Center.

“They’re works of art,” enthused Linda Molto, village artist who annually arranges for the artists and craft vendors of the festival. “They’re like boat cabins, running lights and all. One is named Sugar Plum for Plum Taylor,” wife of Alcee Taylor, lifelong Cortezian who in the past assembled a small museum of his own in the space under his elevated, waterfront home.

“They’ll make people smile to see them, so they will be glad to part with their $2.” That’s the price of admission to the festival for adults; under-12s are free.

The just-opened Florida Maritime Museum at the east end of the village will be open during the festival, in fact will provide major parking space. Additional parking will be on village streets and near the village with shuttle bus service available.