Cortes Island’s Seafest is a cornucopia of delicious delights

Annual celebration of the bounty of the sea returns May 18

For several decades, the Cortes Island Seafood Association (CISA) has put on a seafood festival to celebrate our heritage from the sea.

The purpose of the festival is to bring together those Cortes Islanders who make their living from the sea with the larger community, to promote a mutual understanding and appreciation of aquaculture farming, and to celebrate the bounty of the ocean. CISA is a non-profit society whose mandate is to monitor the water quality of the area surrounding Cortes Island, and who uses funds raised from the festival to conduct a water testing program in local waters.

The gathering began as The Seafood Festival in the late 1980s and was held at Smelt Bay Park for many years.

It migrated to the lower lawn beside the Cove Restaurant as The Oyster Festival, and two years later moved to the field beside the Squirrel Cove Store as Seafest.

Kristen Scholfield-Sweet and John Shook began cooking in 2003, and began coordinating the entire phenomena in 2011.

Although there have been years when the spring skies gave a few sprinkles, and once when it was moved to a community hall because rain seemed imminent, and once when the wind blew over some tents, so far, with the blessings of the sky deities, the festival has never been cancelled due to poor weather conditions.

Seafoodies are a hardy lot who in years past have stood under dripping trees as well as in the hot sun for a chance to eat poached oysters in miso sauce, oysters glazed with lime marmalade and mustard, oysters with fermented black bean sauce, oysters drizzled with jalapeño, Pico de Gallo or Pernod sauce, oysters panfried in corn flake crumbs, oysters Rockefeller, and angels on horseback on the barbeque, mussels steamed in white wine, steamed clams bordelaise, and prawns in a sweet chili Thai sauce served with shrimp chips.

In 2014, Seafest moved to the lawns of Gorge Harbour Marina Resort to accommodate the increasing number of community members and off-island visitors who now make this a “go to event” to welcome spring and celebrate island life.

Seafest 2019 will again be held at the Gorge Harbour Marina on Saturday May 18 with the help of more than 75 volunteers drawn from seafood workers, our organizational partner the Whaletown Community Club, and a very helpful Cortes community. We begin serving at 11:30 and anticipate fixing approximately 700 gourmet lunches on camp stoves and barbecues. Just watching the oyster shucking and cooking show is worth the attendance, even if you are planning to enjoy the non-seafood offerings from many vendors.

Adult tickets are $22 for a feast of three cooked and three barbecued oyster dishes, prawns, clams, little potatoes, artisan salad and toasted garlic bread. All oysters are fully cooked and certified safe to eat. There will be a kid’s menu and prices. Advanced tickets are not necessary, but if you want a ticket, they will be available at the Cortes Natural Food Co-op, Squirrel Cove Store, and the Gorge Marina store up until festival day.

In a world where nothing is fixed and everything shifts across time and space, the currently configured music line-up includes Laurel Bohart, Subtle Dawn and Dannfverr Johnson, Louis Belcourt, Rick Bockner, Andy Vine, Ruby & Smith, and, hopefully, Larry Hansen, who always closes Seafest with a big bang of cosmic vibrations.

A free shuttle will meet every ferry arriving at Cortes. You don’t need to call for a reservation, just step off the ferry and your ride awaits, or will be right back. Each year we have more vendors and organizations requesting space for their tables. We ask for 10 per cent of your day’s sales if you are for-profit. There is no fee for non-profit organizations.

If you want to be a vendor or promote your organization’s passion, email Kristen at or call 250-935-6464 to reserve your space. And believe it or not, there is always room for a few more volunteers.

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