FISH, fishers work toward cooperation

Ten days after a Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage meeting in Cortez, FISH members and disgruntled fishers met Nov. 15 to discuss how each can help the other.

The Nov. 5 FISH meeting brought some local commercial fishers to the table to express frustration over a perceived lack of FISH assistance to the fishing industry.

At the same time, FISH members noted the long absence of fishers from the organization’s meetings and the lack of their participation in the nonprofit’s primary fundraiser, the annual Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival.

At the heart of the Nov. 5 dispute was the use of the FISH boatworks facility, a facility that has undergone criticism in the past for being more of a “boys club” hangout than a working facility to benefit FISH and the community.

Fishers renewed their complaints that the facility is being used for recreational boaters, leaving fishers nowhere to conduct major repairs on the boats they use to make a living.

FISH board members took notice last month of the mounting frustration and appointed board member Rick Stewart as the boatworks committee chair, responsible for taking the facility in a new direction.

The opposing sides agreed to meet at a boatworks committee meeting Nov. 15 where the Nov. 5 arguments renewed.

Stewart told fishers he wants the boatworks to embrace the “entire Cortez fishing community” and asked fishers to elect a spokesperson to bring their concerns to the meetings.

Jodi Tyne, who first confronted the FISH board Nov. 5, offered the first symbol of peace by offering herself as a volunteer for the Commercial Fishing Festival. Her actions drew in others from the fishing side of the argument to also volunteer.

After more than an hour of mostly arguments between the two sides, Tyne’s actions brought declarations of cooperation from the FISH board members present.

FISH secretary Joe Kane stated, “There were declarations of support to launch a new era of cooperation in establishing FISH boatworks for the entire community — especially fishermen.”

Tony Taylor said, “We want to represent our heritage. We need a place to do our boat work.”

Junior Guthrie, an outspoken critic of FISH at the Nov. 5 meeting, acknowledged the lack of involvement from fishers.

“We made a terrible mistake by not being involved,” he said. “We need to be involved.”

Stewart said his vision for the facility is to see it run as a business, not a clubhouse, “but a place that FISH can earn money while still providing services to the community.”

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