The Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival: Fishing for our Future

This year marks the 35th anniversary of the annual Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival. For one weekend in February, this tough and tiny village will open its doors to thousands of visitors to share the proud history and culture of one of Florida’s last true working waterfronts.

Settled by fishermen from North Carolina in the late 1800s, Cortez has never stopped fishing. Its people have withstood hurricanes, wars, recessions and storms of regulations. The village has had to adapt to shifting sands – but the perseverance and grit of the people have never wavered. Today it remains a true testament to the “real” Florida.

This region has supplied bountiful seafood to humans for thousands of years. Fishing here is good for a reason. Nestled among mangroves on Sarasota Bay, Cortez is positioned between two nationally accredited estuaries. Quick translation: the habitat here is pretty special. However, like so much of Florida, Cortez faces threats associated with an increasing human population and ever-encroaching development. But unlike so much of Florida, where similar places have simply been swallowed by the concrete, Cortez has been fighting back.

The F.I.S.H. Preserve encompasses almost 100 acres of sensitive coastal habitat. It is one of the last stretches of undeveloped coastline on Sarasota Bay.

In 2000, a community wide effort spearheaded by the Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage (F.I.S.H.), purchased almost 100 acres of land adjacent to the village that became designated as the F.I.S.H. Preserve. The F.I.S.H. Preserve encompasses mangrove, wetland, and upland habitats along the shoreline of Sarasota Bay and protects a stretch of coastline that is critical to many of the species upon which Cortez depends. It is one of the largest undeveloped stretches of land on Sarasota Bay.

This year marks the 35th anniversary of the Festival. It also marks the year that F.I.S.H. was finally able to negotiate the purchase of a key, strategically located parcel of land located in the center of the Preserve. This purchase unified the property and will allow restoration efforts and continued conservation of this land to move forward. It is therefore quite fitting that this year’s Festival theme is “Fishing for our Future.”

A party with a purpose! The purchase of F.I.S.H. Preserve land – then and now – is funded primarily through proceeds of the Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival.

Fresh off the boat! Festival-goers can get a first hand look at some of the area’s commercially important fisheries.

In addition to sampling a plethora of delicious local seafood, visitors can get their groove on with local musicians, feed their hunger for nautical arts and crafts, get up close and personal with local marine-life in a touch tank for kids of all ages, and listen to fish facts from Florida Sea Grant biologists during “Dock Talks.” History buffs can tour the Florida Maritime Museum and the newly renovated and lovingly restored Cortez Cultural Center. Don’t forget to visit the F.I.S.H. Boatworks to see vessel craftsmanship at its finest – you can even enter a raffle to win one of their beautiful, custom-built boats!

The Festival is an annual celebration of the Cortez way of life and allows attendees to experience a place that is truly unique. Take a trip back in time and wander the working waterfront that is Cortez. Be proud to be part of an effort to protect habitat and an important piece of Florida’s history.

2016 Festival visitors try to decide which delicious local seafood to sample first.


2017 Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival Details:
When: February 18 – 19, 10am-6pm
Where: 4415 119th St. W., Cortez, FL 34215.
Admission $4.00, kids under 12 free. All proceeds go to the FISH Preserve.
More Info:

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