BRADENTON – Established in 1991, The Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage is a non-profit, grassroots organization dedicated to the preservation of the heritage of Florida's traditional Gulf Coast maritime communities. With a diverse mission focused on numerous ways to preserve our state's unique saltwater heritage, the all-volunteer group is gearing up for a busy 2013 that kicks off with the 31st Annual Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival February 16 and 17. The group has a host of other initiatives in the work and is looking for like-minded folks in the community to help out.
After going through some major changes in 2012, FISH. is back in high gear an looking toward an ambitious agenda in the year to come. No longer affiliated with the Manatee County Clerk of the Courts and the Florida Maritime Museum, the group finds itself without the support of those resources who it says needed to create financial separation because of grant funds associated with the purchase of the old Cortez Schoolhouse (now the Florida Maritime Museum). As such, the group is eagerly seeking volunteers who would like to help them promote public awareness and support for protection of the marine resources and fisheries industry of Florida, and to preserve traditional maritime skills and values.
Becoming a member is easy and costs only $10 – the same price that has been in effect since its inception, almost 22 years ago. The upcoming festival is the group's key fundraiser. Hosting more that five dozen artists, over 30 food vendors and 20,000 guests over two days, it is one of the most popular local events of the year. The themes of this year's festival is "Better Fish to Fry." The group has already used previous funds raised to aid in the purchase of 95 acres of environmentally sensitive estuarine habitat “The FISH Preserve” just east of Cortez Village.
FISH preserved the area to protect the property from future development, while assuring the environmental habitat necessary to support the commercial fishing industry in the Cortez Village was also protected for future generations. In partnership with Sarasota Bay Estuary Program (SBEP), they are nearing the end of the development of a complete restoration plan and permitting for the F.I.S.H. Preserve funded by a combined $50,000 in grant monies.
In December, FISH established and granted to Manatee County a Conservation Easement over the FISH Preserve as an additional way to ensure the protection of this vital waterfront from any chance of development. The group is also excitedly anticipating that F.I.S.H. Preserve will be receiving an additional $250,000 SWFWMD (Southwest Florida Water Management District) grant which will be implemented by the SBEP (Sarasota Bay Estuary Program) to do extensive restoration on the preserve.
The group is also looking forward to to the continued development and kickoff of the Turner Maritime Challenge at Cortez, which will offer programs to the community. The group is also working on a partnership with the Sea Scouts (a division of Boy Scouts of America) a program. Initially developed in 1910, the program places emphasis on nautical skills and will be offered to youth age 14 to 20.
As you can see the folks at FISH are working hard to preserve an importan part of our local heritage. Visit their website to learn how you can help out and don't forget to get out to Cortez Village February 16 and 17 for the big festival!