Wild chickens of Key West, take the weekend off. This weekend the focus is solely on local seafood.
The Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen’s Association returns to present its 13th annual Seafood Festival at Bayview Park, happening Saturday, Jan. 13, from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. This celebration of all things marine is one of Key West’s most popular, family-friendly foodie festivals. Proceeds benefit the Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen’s Association, which supports fisheries management on state and federal levels and funds college scholarships for students in the Florida Keys.
A little over 25 years ago a core group of local fishermen identified a need for unified representation within the commercial fishing industry. Together, they sought to form an organization that could protect and promote their precarious way of life, and the Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen’s Association was born. With a focus on sustainability, preservation of marine habitats and effective lobbying to federal, state and county agencies regarding regulation, the association has become a vital force in advancing the science of fishing through cooperative research efforts, and for helping to preserve the cultural heritage and ecological purity of Florida Keys fishing. After a disastrous 2005 season, fraught with multiple hurricanes, the Keys commercial fishing community was hit hard; many fishermen within the FKCFA found themselves unable to pay the organization’s dues thanks to the devastating losses they’d experienced. The FKCFA, in a bid to raise funds and improve morale, held its first-ever seafood festival and received rave reviews from the local community. The event has gone strong ever since, with new sponsors and dishes being added annually — all to the tune of roughly 8,000 visitors who’ve flocked to the two-day event over the past few years, says Vicki Gale, who, along with her husband, has worked to support the FKCFA and its major event for years.
Here in the Keys, fishing isn’t just everyone’s favorite pastime — it’s a way of life for tens of thousands who live here. As the No. 1 commercial seaport in Florida and the second largest across the entire southeastern United States, the commercial fishing industry represents the second largest economic engine in the state of Florida, generating over $700 million in profits each year.
“Many people do not realize that the commercial fishing industry is the second largest employer in the county,” says Gale. “Many families are involved — from license holders, boat owners, crewmen, and fishhouse employees to restaurant employees (who) serve and cook our local seafood.”
Beginning Saturday morning, members of the FKCFA will catch and serve a variety of so-fresh-you’ll-want-to-slap-it seafood specials, including Florida lobster, fried fish, stone crab, smoked dips and ceviche. Other than standing on the dock and begging for charter boat scraps with the pelicans, the FKCA festival is the public’s best bet to taste the freshest possible seafood of the day here in Key West. For two leisurely days, Bayview Park will be transformed into a fish-themed fairground. Expect booths selling a range of local arts and crafts, as well as marine life exhibits dedicated to helping the public better understand the fragility and unique beauty of the Florida Keys’ underwater wilderness. Thanks to the generous support of local businesses, raffles will continue throughout the weekend to offer the chance to win prizes, including fishing equipment, dinner gift certificates and artwork. A dedicated kids fun zone will feature games, rides and activities for children of all ages, ensuring that even the pickiest eaters have something fun to do while parents are busy chewing down on local specialties such as conch fritters and seafood chowder.
“We pride ourselves on using local seafood, so don’t miss any of it because it doesn’t get any fresher than this,” Gale says. Keep an eye out for the grouper at the fish booth this year, she urges, and the conch ceviche — made by a local conch, of course — for a truly authentic piece of paradise.
“And our sponsors Legal Rum Distillery and the Margarita Man have teamed up to make some yummy Runaritas,” she adds. “You won’t want to miss that.”
In addition to fresh caught seafood, the festival will also serve made-from-scratch desserts and drinks, and will feature an ongoing set of live performances by local musicians and entertainers along with a boat show and local celebrity chef demonstrations.
Saturday’s entertainment includes Cayó Ritmo with Mustafa Akbar, The Shanty Hounds, The Regs and Miss Demeanor.
Sunday’s entertainment includes Miguel Perez & The Square Grouper, The Sauce Boss, and Island Jam
There is a $5 per person admission charge for adults, which enters the ticket holder in a raffle for $250 worth of seafood. Children under 12 are admitted free.
Parking is available for $5 per car at the Horace O’Bryant Middle School parking lot, 1105 Leon St. (adjacent to Bayview Park) and the proceeds benefits the school. Free off-street parking is available around the park.
Bayview Park is at the corner of Truman Avenue and Jose Marti Drive, easily accessible from both Old and New Town, Key West. ¦