PLACIDA — An excavator tore away at Placida’s history Tuesday.
The Fishery — which had been a hub of commercial fishing for Southwest Florida from the 1940s into the 1990s — is coming down. The excavator tore apart the abandoned fish house Tuesday. The small cottages that had house boutiques and what had been The Fishery restaurant are closed and will also face demolition.
In their stead, Boca Grande residents Jay Fineberg and his wife Cookie Potter-Fineberg plan to redevelop the 14-acre property into “Village and Marina of Boca Grande.” The project calls for a 150-room hotel, 60-unit condominiums for 55-and-older senior adults who will be able to enjoy the concierge hotel services. The Finebergs also plan to build a new restaurant and meeting space where Potter-Fineberg’s Boca Grande Bridge Club can play.
Only Patsey Smith remains at the Fishery at least until the end of January.
Smith’s retail blue crab and live bait business is closed, due to the demolition. However, she’s still open until the end of January for what will be the last commercial mullet roe season at the Fishery.
As she’s done for a decade, operating beneath a pole barn and out of a single-wide trailer, Smith packs the fish on ice so catches of mullet can be transported and sold to a wholesaler in the Florida Panhandle.
Ten years ago, Smith bought the business and license from Cody Denton for whom she worked. She’s originally from Winter Haven where she ran a catering truck fleet that served construction sites. She liked working along Coral Creek and didn’t miss “the 4 a.m. to midnight” hours she kept with her catering business.
The year she took over the business was one of her busiest years. She and Denton’s wife processed 1.5 million pounds of mullet — which she was only able to do with help.
“Had it not been for all the fishermen pitching in to help, I don’t know how we could have done it,” Smith said. Since then, she’s seen two decent years with hauls of 700,000 pounds or more.
But like other businesses dependent upon the water, red tide algae took its toll. Where she might see 200 or more fishing crews, a good number from elsewhere in Florida, she’s expecting maybe 100 crews.
Where she goes next and what she will do, Smith couldn’t say.
“I like it here,” she said. “There’s nothing in this town that you can rent on the water. If can find something, you can’t afford it. I don’t make that much money doing this.”
More than a business
For Eunice Albritton, leaving the Fishery and seeing it torn down is personal. Her father, Walter G. Gault, first built the Fishery complex in 1944.
Gault originally operated his fish house on Gasparilla Island at a time when no bridge connected the island to the mainland. The shift of his operations to the mainland allowed him the option of shipping by trucks in addition to railroad, which did run along a trestle to Boca Grande.
The business was so successful that Placida became known as the economic hub for commercial fishing in Southwest Florida. The small cottages that housed art galleries and boutiques originally were the homes for commercial fishermen during the Fishery’s heyday.
Eventually, Albritton took over her father’s business. Commercial fishing remained a healthy industry until the mid-1990s when a state gill net ban approved by voters took effect.
More than 17 years ago, Jacques “Jack” Cloutier bought the Fishery property from the Albritton family. But with the onset of the recession and Cloutier’s murder in Costa Rica, the property ended up in the hands of Caribbean Bay Mortgage Lender LLC, a Pennsylvania-based firm. Caribbean Bay foreclosed on the Fishery and tried to auction off the property without luck.
The property laid in a limbo for years until the Finebergs decided to redevelop the property in a manner amicable to Placida and Boca Grande residents. Unfortunately, decades of neglect and the lack of maintenance left the existing structures in deplorable condition.