Angela Collins

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.

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A Salty Heritage: Celebrating the Fishing History of Tampa Bay

The National Sea Grant Program is celebrating 50 years of Science Serving America’s Coasts (for a 30 second video, or even better, a 10 minute video). To commemorate Sea Grant’s cherished history of working with fishing communities, UF/IFAS Extension Florida Sea Grant Agents Libby Carnahan (Pinellas) and Angela Collins (Manatee, Hillsborough, Sarasota) hosted “A Salty Heritage: Celebrating the Fishing History of Tampa Bay.” The program, held at Weedon Island Preserve in December 2016, was open to the public and highlighted the bounty and diversity of fishing opportunities within the Tampa Bay region. Invited panelists included commercial and recreational representatives, and featured crabbers, seafood wholesalers, and fishermen. Each speaker told tales from their past, provided insight into their industries, and shared their visions for the future.

John Stevely, UF/IFAS Extension Florida Sea Grant Agent emeritus, talks about the history local working waterfronts in Tampa Bay; notably the sponge industry in Tarpon Springs and mullet in Cortez. Other panelists included (from left to right) Dawn Ayelsworth, Bob Ayelsworth, Jason DeLaCruz, Larry Borden and Gus Muench.

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Sea Grant 50th Anniversary Program: Celebrating the Fishing History of Tampa Bay

An

Photo credit: Hubbard’s Marina

Sea Grant is turning 50! Come and Celebrate 50 Years of Putting Science to Work for America’s Coastal Communities.

What: A Salty Heritage: Celebrating the Fishing History of Tampa Bay

When: Saturday, December 3, 2016

Where: Weedon Island Preserve Cultural and Natural History Center, 1800 Weedon Drive, St. Petersburg, FL 33702

About: Tampa Bay has a rich heritage as a fishing community. To celebrate Sea Grant’s 50th Anniversary, we are holding a Marine Science Open Classroom (10 am – 12 pm) that will be fun for the whole family! Then we’ll have cake and refreshments in the lobby (12 – 1 pm), and will proudly finish the day by hosting some of the saltiest fishermen in the bay for an open panel discussion (1 – 3 pm) with the audience! Invited panelists range from crabbers, spearfishers, wholesalers, and recreational and commercial anglers. Each speaker will tell tales from the past, provide insights into their profession, and give us a glimpse of what they see as they look to the future. A question and answer session will follow the panel discussion.

We hope that you will join us for part (or all) of the day to learn about the resources Tampa Bay provides to our community.

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2016 Annual Cortez Fishing Festival Celebrates Community’s Commercial Fishing Heritage

A fishing boat docks along the working waterfront of Cortez

A fishing boat docks along the working waterfront of Cortez village.

If you love seafood and want to savor a taste of Florida’s history, then you don’t want to miss the annual Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival (February 13 & 14, 2016).

Cortez village represents one of the last working waterfronts on Florida’s Gulf coast that is dedicated to commercial fishing. Each year, tough and ingenious Cortezians join together to celebrate and share the history and proud heritage of their community at the Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival. This two-day event allows festival-goers to enjoy live music, clog dancing, boat rides, marine life exhibits, nautical arts & crafts, beautiful waterfront vistas – and of course, plenty of delicious local seafood! Trust me, you do not want to miss out on the mullet hot dog. This year’s Festival marks its 34th anniversary.

Cortez has been a center of commercial fishing since the Spanish colonial era, and prior to that, Native Americans depended upon the region for its abundant marine life. This little village has withstood the test of time, surviving hurricanes, red tides and storms of regulations, habitat degradation and economic upheavals. The annual festival showcases how the pioneering spirit of fishermen past continues today in the industrious locals who carry on the community’s legacy.

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Reef fish return to the Deep! Tracking gag grouper after catch and release.

acoustically tagged gag

A gag grouper fitted with an ID tag and an acoustic pinger. These ‘pingers’ allow researchers to monitor fish behavior after release.

Reef fisheries are economically important to commercial and recreational industries in the state of Florida. Most species are carefully managed through quotas, size limits and seasonal closures; however, these regulations are effective only if released fish survive.

Gag grouper are a favorite target for many marine anglers in the Gulf of Mexico. Seasonal and size restrictions contribute to recreational discard, and the associated release mortality is an important consideration during stock assessments. There is  uncertainty regarding current discard mortality estimates, and the effectiveness of different barotrauma mitigation techniques is unclear.

DD release

A gag grouper is returned to the reef using a weighted release device. This method provides an alternative to venting.

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Unmasking Florida’s hogfish

John Stevely with a prize male hogfish

John Stevely enjoying retirement with a prize male hogfish

What’s behind that big brown snout?

Hogfish, often called ‘hog snapper,’ are actually members of the wrasse family. They are harvested in the US from North Carolina to the Florida Keys. Spearing is the most common way to land a hogfish, and getting in the water to shoot one of these beauties sounds great when the temperatures heat up! However, they can also be caught on hook and line, and recently more and more anglers on the west coast of Florida are specifically targeting hogfish with a rod and reel.

Hogfish are protogynous hermaphrodites, which is just a fancy way of saying they all begin life as females and will change sex into a male if they live long enough. They weren’t regulated until 1994, when a minimum size (12” fork length) and recreational bag limit (5 fish) were implemented. The size limit was based on the smallest size that hogfish are able to change sex; however, the majority of individuals actually can not change sex until they are at least 14 – 16 inches long. They form harems, with one male maintaining 5 – 15 females during their spawning season, which lasts for several months and peaks in the spring.

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