Pine Island was abuzz last month with the premier of a new documentary produced by our local PBS affiliate, WGCU-TV, which partnered with Florida Sea Grant on a series of documentaries funded by the West Coast Inland Navigation District looking at local, sustainable seafood.
The first documentary in the series, Pink Gold Rush, featured Fort Myers Beach — where I grew up — and its shrimping industry. The latest documentary in the series featured Pine Island… my adopted hometown where I raised my children and where I’ve been buying and selling real estate since the 1970s.
The documentary, Mullet: A Tale of Two Fish, talks about how mullet has been our one of our most misunderstood, underrated and underused species. The film included interviews with two generations of one of our hardest working Pine Island families around, the Dooleys. It also featured efforts by restaurateurs — notably Jesse Tincher, owner of Matlacha’s great Blue Dog Bar & Grill, and Ed Chiles (son of former governor Lawton Chiles), who has several restaurants near the fishing village of Cortez, just north of Sarasota — to promote mullet not only as a fabulous fish to eat, but as sustainable, local seafood supporting local families and jobs.
I’ve talked in past columns about the farming that takes place on the Island — from mangos, to palm trees to longans — but I think mullet fishing really epitomizes the Island’s character. Unfortunately, a lot of that heritage has gone by the wayside.
Only a few of our historic working marinas remain — many have been turned into public boat ramps or replaced with larger developments. One of the few left is Jug Creek Marina, on Tortuga Street in Bokeelia, which is owned and run by members of the Padilla and Morton families (and is listed for sale by our team).
The Padilla family has a long and storied history in Charlotte Harbor. They are descendants of Tariva Padilla, native to the Canary Islands, and Jaunita Parez, native to Mexico, who married and settled as one of the pioneering fishing families on Cayo Costa.
In his book, “Fisherfolk of Charlotte Harbor, Florida,” author Robert F. Edic recounts oral histories with Padilla descendants and traces their lives of pioneering and commercial fishing. Edic credits Tariva with the founding of the fishery on Cayo Costa in the 1870s. The Mortons were some of the earliest settlers to Matlacha.
Eventually, that fishery also extended and grew to Pine Island, where it helped support the Island’s founding families. The Museum of the Island recounts some of this rich history and culture and I urge all Island residents — especially our snowbird visitors and our newcomers — to visit the museum to learn more.
And I’d also encourage you to stop by Jesse’s place at the Blue Dog and join him for his special Mullet Monday, where he features different preparations of the Island’s favorite fish. Smoked or fried, there’s no doubt that mullet is one of our best-kept secrets around.