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Date of Issue: February 18, 2009

Outdoor fishing festival this weekend in Cortez

Cortezians are excited yet “crabby” about this weekend.

The Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival is Feb. 21-22, with a crowd of 30,000 people expected to visit the historic waterfront community on the shore of Sarasota Bay just east of Anna Maria Island.

Excitement comes from all the folks visiting the village and enjoying the old-Florida atmosphere — plus live entertainment, tons of food and drink, arts and crafts.

Crabbiness comes from the theme of this year’s event, “Claws,” as in stone crab claws. The crab’s huge claws are renowned as one of the most-prized seafood delicacies in the world.

Stone crabs are primarily harvested along Florida’s west coast from the Florida Keys northward. Cortez is a major port of call for the claws.

And crabs are expected to be present in force, both stone crab claws and blue crab, steamed, boiled and caked, plus seafood of all flavors.

Plus arts and crafts from scores of artisans. And activities for the kids, plus music and entertainment and lots of fun for all.

Admission is $2, children under 12 free. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. both days. Offsite parking is available at Sugg Middle School, 3801 59th St. W., Bradenton, or Coquina Beach Bayside, Bradenton Beach, with shuttle bus service to Cortez, both with a $2 round-trip fee, or parking east of the village off Cortez Road at about a 10-minute walk.

Proceeds from the 27th annual Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival will support expansion of the FISH Preserve and restoration of vitally important wetland habitat. The preserve is 100 bayfront acres just east of the village, dedicated as a nature preserve.

“It’s important that local residents know that festival proceeds are a major source of donations for the FISH Preserve,” said John M. Stevely, local Florida Sea Grant Extension agent. “Much has been accomplished, but there is still a lot to do.”

“The accomplishments of the Cortez community in preserving these wetlands is indeed astonishing and a testimony to private citizen involvement” noted Karen Bell, chairman of the festival organizing committee. “Now efforts will turn to expanding the preserve, restoring impacted wetlands, restoring the Cortez 1912 schoolhouse and developing a maritime museum.”

Noted environmentalist and ocean explorer Jean-Michel Cousteau endorsed the FISH Preserve and efforts to preserve Cortez, one of the last intact fishing villages on Florida’s Gulf Coast.

“Your FISH Preserve is very impressive,” wrote Cousteau, founder of the Ocean Futures Society. “Its economic value cannot be judged in terms of dollars alone. I have seen from many places around the world communities like the fishing village of Cortez, suffering from the demise of the natural resources base on which they depend. Your project is an important reminder of the vital connections between nature and humanity.”

“There will be new artists and crafts people, new musical groups, and more food venders this year,” said Cortez Heritage Site manager Roger Allen. “There will be lots of new things going on from years past, plus all the events that people have grown to love.”

The blessing of the fleet and an awards ceremony is scheduled for noon Saturday. Winners of The Islander newspaper-sponsored Cortez Crab Cookoff will receive their awards on stage at noon. And the winning restaurant in the crab cake category, Banana Cabana of Bradenton Beach, will have a booth at the event with a menu including owner Michael Rapport’s “Mango Island Crab Cakes.”

Entertainment features the Richard Culbreath Group, Sunshine Express Cloggers, Gumbo Boogie Band, The Alternators, Gulf Drive Band and the Manatee River Bluegrass Band.

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