Does Shrimp Fest have a future in Fernandina Beach?

Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm

Reporter – News Analyst

Fernandina shrimp boat races, 1969  (State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/84921)
Fernandina shrimp boat races, 1969 (State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/84921)

During the first weekend of May, Shrimp Festival 2013 celebrated the 50th anniversary of Shrimp Fest, which began as a way to celebrate the city’s heritage as birthplace of the modern shrimping industry.  Early festivals were relatively small and featured shrimp boat races and displays of artwork.  Over the years the festival has grown into one of the premiere festivals of the Southeast United States, attracting many visitors and vendors (www.shrimpfestival.com) Local not-for-profit groups set up booths during shrimp fest to sell food and refreshments.  Proceeds from their sales fund a large share of each organization’s annual budget.

For the first time in recent memory the Shrimp Fest Committee this year moved the date of the festival parade from Thursday back to the Saturday preceding Shrimp Fest weekend.  This move was met with significant criticism from many members of the community who believed that the Thursday parade had become an institution.  This year also for the first time, the Shrimp Festival featured a beer tent.  In the minds of many local citizens, this activity conflicted with the family-friendly nature of the festival.  No significant public safety issues accompanied the introduction of the alcohol sales, which were highly profitable to the event.  There has been a lobbying effort spearheaded by vocal locals to force the Shrimp Festival Committee to return to the original parade schedule and cease alcohol sales.

Commissioner Gass: "It's time to cut 'em loose and let 'em fly."
Commissioner Gass: “It’s time to cut ’em loose and let ’em fly.”

During the July 30, 2013 Fernandina Beach City Commission’s Special Meeting called to address the FY 2013-14 budget, Commissioner Pat Gass announced that she wanted to eliminate the $35,000 budgeted for trash removal associated with Shrimp Fest.  She said that the city of Fernandina Beach has picked up the tab for this expense since Shrimp Fest began. “It’s time to cut ’em loose and let ‘em fly, she said.”  Mayor Sarah Pelican quickly added, “I agree.”

Commissioner Ed Boner attempted to put the brakes on such an action.  He said, “Like it or not, the city owns [Shrimp Fest].  We have control over it.”  City Attorney Tammi Bach quickly jumped in, pointing out that Shrimp Fest is governed by a franchise agreement and that while the city might ask to re-open that agreement, certain actions cannot be taken without consultation and agreement by the Shrimp Fest Committee.

Commissioner Ed Boner
Commissioner Ed Boner

Boner asked that the commissioners carefully consider whether certain special events enhance the town or not.  If they do, the city needs to be cautious in making changes.  Commissioner Arlene Filkoff also asked that no decision be made at this meeting regarding cutting the trash removal budget.

City Manager Joe Gerrity said that in conversation with Sandy Price, the director of the Shrimp Fest, Price informed him that if the city won’t pay for the trash pick up, “that is the end of Shrimp Fest.”  Pelican retorted, “If [the Shrimp Fest Committee] can pay Sandy Price $50,000, they can pay for trash pick up.”  Gerrity quickly said that he “did not want to go there.”  Gass underscored that her concerns were only with saving the city money and keeping the millage rate down.

Pelican suggested that Shrimp Fest should be a conversation for another meeting in light of the trash costs.  Bach suggested a workshop on festivals in general, to cover topics like the sale of alcohol and other festival-related matters.

It was the consensus of the commission to taken no action on this until Vice Mayor Charlie Corbett could be present for the discussion.  Beano Roberts, who has been a member of the Shrimp Festival Committee for many years, is a critic of the decisions made by the festival committee this year with respect to serving alcohol.  While he was present at the FBCC meeting, he did not speak.

Sandy Price, who has been the volunteer director of Shrimp Fest for many years, works all year on the festival.  Only recently did the Shrimp Fest Committee, the governing board of the festival, authorize her to receive a salary.  She was not available to comment on this story.

Suanne-2Editor’s Note:  Suanne Z. Thamm is a native of Chautauqua County, NY, who moved to Fernandina Beach from Alexandria,VA, in 1994. As a long time city resident and city watcher, she provides interesting insight into the many issues that impact our city.  We are grateful for Suanne’s many contributions to the Fernandina Observer.


July 31, 2013 4:30 p.m.


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