Cortez fishing festival leaves FISH financially under the weather

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FISH vice president Jane von Hahmann, left, and president Kim McVey discuss the Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival at the March 5 board meeting. Islander Photo: Terry O’Connor
Kristin Sweeting of the Florida Maritime Museum reports attendance swelled during the 36th annual Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival. She spoke at the March 5 FISH board meeting. Islander Photo: Terry O’Connor

Beautiful weather was supposed to help the 36th annual Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival regain its swagger.

Instead, receipts will likely fall short of 2017, which was the worst year in the history of the festival, organizers said.

The two-day fest saw gorgeous, sunny weather with temps in the 80s this year in contrast to the rains blamed for holding down crowds in 2017.

Early crowds were encouraging, but attendance and receipts were off, organizers said.

Vice president Jane von Hahmann of the Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage, which organizes the festival, said preliminary numbers were not encouraging. Fiscal results have yet to be fully tabulated.

“It’s going to be worse than I thought,” von Hahmann said at the March 5 FISH meeting.

“It was a great festival but the returns were disappointing,” said FISH board member John Stevely. “I was really disappointed because I thought we were going to knock the socks off of it.”

FISH president Kim McVey said the 2018-19 budget will be affected by attendance skidding an estimated 23.5 percent from 17,000 in 2017 to 13,000 this year.

A number of factors were blamed for the decline, including bad timing, competition for the entertainment dollar, festival burnout from a glut of events and “perfect beach weather.”

“We had probably the most beautiful weather we’ve ever had for the festival,” von Hahmann said. “It was the perfect beach day.”

Getting to the festival was problematic at times.

“We believe traffic was a huge, huge factor,” von Hahmann said.

Competition from the Sarasota motorcycle festival, Thunder by the Bay, the last weekend of the Florida State Fair and the Daytona 500 also were cited.

Stevely wondered if the FISH board had grown lax in its festival preparations. The board brainstormed ideas to reverse the festival’s decline, including corporate sponsorship, digital advertising, improved signage and advance ticket sales.

Net festival proceeds might not cover the $48,000 in annual FISH overhead costs, von Hahmann said.

“Bottom line is, I guess our prayers need to be for nice weather, not incredible weather,” von Hahmann said to laughter.

McVey said the board could decide to augment its sole fundraiser with more events.

“We’ve talked about doing something else,” she said. “Eventually, we might have to.”

In other matters, the board set the annual election for 7 p.m. Monday, April 9.

Members whose terms are expiring include McVey, von Hahmann and members Kaye Bell, Plum Taylor and Janet Miller. All are running uncontested for re-election to three-year terms.

Board member Karen Bell, owner of Star Fish Co. Market & Restaurant and A.P. Bell Fish Co., reported commercial fishing is “really slow.” She said mullet, stone crab and grouper all were less plentiful than normal.

Founded in 1991, FISH supports a preserve and boat-building and repair programs. Its mission includes fighting land developments seen as harmful to the commercial fishing industry.

FISH will next meet at 7 p.m. Monday, April 2, at Fishermen’s Hall, 4511 124th St. W.

One thought on “Cortez fishing festival leaves FISH financially under the weather

  1. Bob Rogers

    We were on the Island for six weeks, but we didn’t attempt to go to the Festival because of the logistics of getting there and getting home. Gulf Drive traffic is awful by noontime every day anyway, and an event like the Festival creates gridlock. The trolley doesn’t help because it’s trapped in the traffic. I suspect that this may be why attendance was down.

    In considering proposals for bridges, you don’t need to make it easier for people to get to the Island – there are too many people there during high season already!


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