APALACHICOLA, Fla. (WMBB) — This weekend would have been the 57th annual Florida Seafood Festival in Franklin County, but like other large events this year, COVID-19 put those plans on hold.
The decision to cancel the festival was made in September; it’s the first time the event has been cancelled in 57 years. However, a special event from the festival still went on as scheduled on Friday in Apalachicola, as the Blessing of the Fleet took place at Riverfront Park. Dozens of people came out to watch the blessing of shrimp and fishing boats, charters and other recreational vessels.
“The Florida Seafood Festival’s intention is to celebrate the seafood industry in Franklin County and that’s what’s made us great all these years is our wonderful seafood industry and the men and women that work on the water,” said Seafood Festival President, John Solomon. “We were asked if we could still do the blessing because of the meaningfulness of what the blessing is to Franklin County and our fishermen.”
While the rest of the festival was cancelled this year since it typically attracts around 24 thousand people to the area, an honorary “King Retsyo” (oyster spelled backwards) was still crowned as it typically would be at the event. The Seafood Festival board chose their president, Solomon, to have the honor this year. He said it is an extremely special designation that means a lot to him.
“Being named King Retsyo to me is the most important thing that you can be named in this community,” Solomon said. “It means you represent this community and what it stands for.”
Solomon said it was an extremely difficult decision to call off the festival this weekend and local business owners said they were disappointed but understanding of the decision. However, Solomon, who is also the Franklin County Tourist Development Council Director, said even though the event was cancelled many people still decided to make the trip to the area this weekend to enjoy everything it has to offer.
“We can say that our tourism numbers are up and it’s probably going to be a four percent increase over the year before,” he said.
Local business owners said they’re encouraged to see tourists come to visit, since the Seafood Festival brings in a boost of revenue during the offseason.
Jacksonville resident, Ray Conway, bought his tickets to the festival last year but still made the trip with a group of friends. He said even though the event cancellation was a disappointment, he was glad to visit anyway.
“It’s a chance to get away, get in our RV’s and this is a great place to come,” Conway said. “We would enjoy being here regardless.”
Several first time visitors to the area said they found it to be full of history, good food and a fun atmosphere. Many said they will return for next year’s Seafood Festival.
Solomon said he’s excited to make next year’s event “the best yet.”