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Date of Issue: February 13, 2008

Cortez fish festival on plate for weekend

Cortez has done all it can do, now its festival this weekend is at the mercy of the weather.

The village is used to that - for more than a century the survival of its way of life has depended heavily on the weather as its commercial fishermen harvested the sea - or didn’t.

At issue is whether the Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival will be a super triumph or just a routine success. The 26th annual celebration will be from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 16 and 17.

It will fill the village from Anna Maria Sound on the west to the big nature preserve at the eastern end, from the working waterfront to Cortez Road. Admission is $2, kids under-12 free. Parking, a problem in the past, will include two big new lots in the village for those willing to walk a few extra blocks, and at Coquina Beach on Anna Maria Island and Sugg Middle School at 3801 59th St. W., shuttle bus services will be provided at a $1 fee.

Clear weather or cloudy, the show will go on in all the village’s laid-back exuberance.

Food booths will provide just about anything one wants to eat in the hearty tradition of the area, including the mullet fish that has been a Cortez staple since before its settlement in the 1880s.

There will be 53 booths where artists will show their creations in the annual juried exhibit. A petting zoo will be there for the youngsters to stroke tame animals, and a climbing rock wall for the older and bolder ones.

The Cortez Village Historical Society, senior of organizations there, will sponsor a “Book Bonanza,” featuring its new cookbook, “What’s Cookin’ in Cortez,” with 524 favorite recipes. Also for sale at the Bonanza across the street from the historic Fulford Fish House will be “Finest Kind,” reprinted by the Florida Historical Society, “Fog Comin’ In” by Doris Green, and “Cortez Then and Now, ” by Mary Fulford Green with photos by Linda Molto. The society will show movies in the Cortez Community Center on 123rd Street.

Also in the Fulford Fish House will be a display of working fish nets, fitting well into the festival’s theme, “Net Works.”

The Traditional Small Craft Association will stage a “raid” on the shores of Cortez, with its boats including some built in a program of the Florida Maritime Museum at Cortez. The museum itself, at the eastern end of the village, will be open to the public both days.

John Stevely, marine extension agent with the University of Florida and longtime Cortez aficionado, will lead tours of the working waterfront hourly from Star Fish Co. He will discuss the area’s ecology and history and wildlife (“anything that swims or flies,” he says), and point out types of fishing gear and boats from shrimpers to crabbers to purse seiners to the big offshore long-line grouper boats.

Music and entertainment will be continuous both days, arranged by Cortez musician Richard Culbreath and wife Jeri.

The Cortez area has provided seafood for humanity for 1,000 years, Stevely noted. Native Americans camped and fished there, and colonial Spanish and Cubans worked the sea and shores later. Americans arrived in the 1880s from Carteret County, N.C., and it is their proud descendants who host the Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival.

Sponsor and beneficiary is the village’s core organization, the Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage. Proceeds from the festival, hopefully $60,000-plus from 20,000 or more visitors, will go into the big FISH Preserve adjacent to the village, purchased with past festival funds and donations to the organization.

FISH’s treasurer, Karen Bell, optimistically predicted “The weather will be just fine - it has to be.” She speaks for all villagers, who hope for weather as friendly as Cortezians themselves.