Abundant Fishing in Sarasota Bay

In this week's Vintage Sarasota post, we explore the history of Sarasota's fishing industry.

By Larry Kelleher August 22, 2014


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Courtesy of Sarasota County Historical Resources[/caption]

Abundant fishing has attracted people to the Sarasota County area for millennia. Prehistoric shell middens abound with bone and shell remains from food harvested from the coastal waters. Spanish-speaking fishermen from Cuba camped along the coast during the fishing season a century before Florida became part of the United States. Early hotels used photographs of prize catches to entice tourists to stay at their facilities. Stories handed through the generations of pioneer families tell of the "noise" made by mullet when they were "running" through the bay--so much noise that a sleeper could be kept awake. They told of rowing across the bay and having fish jump into the boat, without aid of a net or line. Jane Brush reminisced about a fishing expedition in 1904 out in the Gulf, off Big Pass and New Pass, when she caught (and her husband removed the hook) over 50 mackerel, more than a dozen bluefish and three very large king fish. This was after a neighbor had opined that "you won't catch any fish with a woman on board." Fishing was one of the first industries in the Sarasota Bay area after the settlers moved in following the Civil War. Before reliable transportation to markets became available, fishermen salted and dried their catch and packed the fish in crates or barrels for shipment to Key West or Cedar Key. In 1895, after a federal dredge had deepened the channel at the northern end of Sarasota Bay, the fishing industry changed. John Savarese, a fish dealer in Tampa, sent his steamship Mistletoe to Sarasota three times a week. It provided regular connection with refrigerated transport so Sarasota Bay fish could be sold fresh. Additional fish houses appeared along the bay front. When the first reliable rail line came to Strawberry Avenue (now Ringling Boulevard) and provided faster transport to northern markets. The Foreman Fish Company, a family business headed by "Captain Ernest" Foreman, was based near Cedar Point (now Golden Gate Point) during the 1910s. After the 1921 hurricane damaged the fish house and docks, the company moved north to Payne Terminal (at now present 10th Street). Although the fish were plentiful, and boats might nearly sink with heavy loads, neither the Foremans nor other fishermen became wealthy. The hazards of the job were starkly visible when lightning struck and killed Ernest Foreman while he was fishing at the Bird Key flats. Special thanks to Ann A. Shank, former Sarasota County Historian, for her research and time devoted to writing this article. Brought to you by Sarasota History Alive! "Where History Happens Everyday."

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