Ever eaten a stir-fry seafood pita sandwich? Or tried your hand at guessing the weight of a dead shark? The latter is a tradition, the former a new treat. Both are features of the 11th annual John's Pass Seafood Festival, which starts at 5 p.m. Friday and continues from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Also beginning Friday, Treasure Island residents will be celebrating that city's 35th Anniversary with parties and events throughout the weekend.
In Madeira Beach, workers spent the day Wednesday erecting a 90-by-120-foot yellow and white tent in the middle of John's Pass Village to prepare for the seafood festival, which organizers say should attract between 100,000 and 120,000 visitors.
By the festival's end, about 300 volunteers will have contributed their time to the weekend event, according to Nancy Frederich, coordinator with the non-profit John's Pass Seafood Festival Corp. Money raised through the festival is donated to several charities, she said.
In addition to the metered spaces and lots in and around John's Pass Village, which is off Gulf Boulevard at 128th Avenue, parking for the festival will be available at Madeira Beach Middle School, 591 Madeira Beach Blvd.; C
S Bank, 14805 Gulf Blvd.; and the Church by the Sea, 495 137th Ave. Shuttle service to and from the parking lots will be provided for $1 round trip.
In Madeira Beach, which calls itself the "Grouper Republic of the World," the festival is a yearly salute to the fishing industry. But this year's festival offers an irony: Commercial grouper fishing in the Gulf of Mexico will be shut down 10 days after the festival.
"A lot of people are going to be working instead of being at the festival," said Roy Gibson, vice president of the Southern Offshore Fishing Association (SOFA), which is helping organize the festival. "It certainly makes us feel bad knowing that we are on our way out."
The ban on grouper fishing was announced earlier this month by the National Marine Fisheries Service, which determined the Gulf's commercial fishing fleet will have reached its authorized quota of 9.2-million pounds of shallow-water grouper by that date. Federal officials imposed the quota in January in hopes of rebuilding the grouper population.
In response to the ban, Gibson said his organization will have a display at the seafood festival showing equipment commercial fishermen use to catch grouper and demonstrating effects of size limits and other fishing restrictions on the industry.
"Mainly our objective is just to show people a little bit about how the fishermen work and what their daily routine is
and some of the restrictions and regulations the government is trying to impose," said Jo Ann Dube, treasurer of SOFA.
Meanwhile, down the street in Treasure Island, a Friday night dinner-dance, a car show and children's Halloween party Saturday and a full day of activities on the beach Sunday are on tap for residents celebrating the 35th anniversary of the city's incorporation.
The event is the first of its kind in Treasure Island, according to officials with the city's Recreation Department, which is organizing the celebration. For information, call 360-0811.