Weekends in season here in Florida offer a myriad of special events and festivals to choose from on any given weekend. The weekend of February 16th and 17th is no exception, so keep in mind when you are making plans that there is one local festival, now in it’s 37th year, that is a party with a purpose.
The Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival, in the tiny fishing village of Cortez, is the last of its kind. Unique and special in the fact that Cortez is the last working fishing village left on the west coast of Florida. The festival itself is put on by The Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage, a local non-profit dedicated to the preservation of Cortez’s commercial fishing industry, maritime culture and history and the environment that supports it. The festival is their only major fundraiser of the year to support their mission.
In the face of rampant growth and coastal development, Cortezians have fiercely defended their community and way of life for generations, but 2018 has proven to be a particularly trying year for Cortez as evidenced in this year’s theme “Changing Tides”. Governmental restrictions on the fishing industry, coastal overdevelopment and the destruction of Florida’s mangrove coastline which directly affects both fish stocks and water quality, have been pressing on this tiny town for decades. This year the massive red tide bloom and subsequent fish kills raised awareness of the water quality and pollution issues facing Florida that fishermen and other natives have been clamoring about for years. The red tide pushed bait and other species into too deep of water to harvest so local fisherman had to travel south to the Everglades and north to the nature coast just to stay afloat.
Cortez has been through tough times before, and this small community bands together to take care of their own. During the depression, they were the only municipality in the state to refuse government assistance. Instead they bartered with farmers and other local merchants to keep afloat, trading their harvest and skills for whatever was needed to survive. This year is no exception. Cortez restaurants banded together with Island businesses to help one another through the formation of SIRF, Service Industry Relief Festivities, where happy hours and special deals rotated among participating restaurants as a way for locals to support one another. As tenacious as Cortezians are, it’s good to know you can help save a little slice of Old Florida by supporting the Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival along with Cortez businesses all year long.
So come on out February 16th & 17th, from 10-6 each day. The Festival is located at the East end of Cortez Village, on 119th Street from The Florida Maritime Museum south to the waterfront. Free parking in the FISH Preserve adjacent to the festival grounds or catch a ride from GT Bray Park on 59th Street on the MCAT for just $3 round trip. Admission is only $4 and children under 12 are free.
Stroll the waterfront and enjoy great food, great music and fabulous maritime art displayed by amazing artists from all over the country. There is a Kid Zone with pony rides, games, face painting, rock wall, bungee jumping and more. Don’t forget to check out the popular and informative Dock Talks located on the docks at the Fish House, along with an interactive touch tank to learn about local critters up close and personal.
Just remember that it is more than just another festival, it is the biggest party around, and it’s a party with a purpose!
See ya’ll there!
Photos courtesy of Rose Lipke.