Louisiana marina, charter industry being crippled by fishing closures
|Louisiana Sportsman photo|
Charter Capt. Ron Price, right, said each time a closure is announced he has more cancellations because people wrongly interpret the shut-downs to mean the Louisiana fish are contaminated.
“This is the first year I would say I was really, really ready (since Katrina),” Breton Sound Marina’s Glenn Sanchez told LouisianaSportsman.com. “We had everything going on, and now this.”
Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries officials announced recreational fishing closures on east side of the Mississippi River on April 30, followed on Sunday (May 9) by closures on the west side of the river. The west-side closures were expanded Tuesday (May 11), although some of those waters reopened today (May 12).
Click here to read more about the reopened waters.
LDWF Secretary Robert Barham has told LouisianaSportsman.com these shut-downs were not based on scientific evidence of tainted fish but rather on a desire to protect tourism.
“There would be a wildfire of reports of someone getting a fish from Louisiana and it tasting bad,” Barham said Monday (May 10). “It would hurt tourism in Louisiana.”
However, many in the marina and charter industry were flabbergasted to learn closures were being announced without any scientific backing.
“I’m speechless,” said Bobby Gros of Bobby Lynn’s Marina. “It’s so stupid I can’t respond to that.
“Let’s just kill the Louisiana tourism industry so somebody doesn’t get a bad piece of fish. They would have to literally be soaked in a 55-gallon barrel of oil to taste bad.”
That’s not to say some don’t understand the concern by Barham and other LDWF officials.
“I understand what he’s saying,” Bayou Charter’s Capt. Charlie Thomason said. “We have a different mentality than people from out of town: We’re more resilient to issues like this, but people that are 300 miles, 500 miles away from here are more health conscious.
“When they hear the news, they are worried that the fish are contaminated.”
Despite the fact that not a single tainted fish has been reported, Thomason said he is losing business hand over fist to the perception that fish from the Louisiana coast aren’t safe.
“Some people are calling and canceling because of the closures, but more people are calling me (and canceling) because they feel the fish are contaminated,” he said.
So even as he expressed understanding about LDWF officials’ concerns, he’s not happy.
“From a business standpoint, I’m pissed,” Thomason said.
That’s because the impact of the closures are having an immediate impact on the charter and marina industry from the Atchafalaya Basin east to the Mississippi state line.
“I had to get out of the marina because I was getting so many questions,” Bride Side Marina’s Buggie Vegas said. “We’re getting cancellations like crazy.”
He’s not alone.
“I’ve been flooded with phone calls with cancellations,” Fish Intimidator Pro-Guide Service’s Ron Price said.
And these cancellations are coming in spite of the fact that there are still open waters to fish in the Southeast Louisiana marshes.
However, Thomason said many of his customers, who could still come in and fish Lake Borgne, have no interest in fishing anywhere but Hopedale and Delacroix.
“They’re coming down to go fishing in Disney World, and you have to tell them that they have to fish in Lake Borgne,” Thomason said. “That’s like telling them that instead of going to Disney World you’re taking them to the local church fair.”
And Price said the effects of the closure have been progressive.
“Every time they announce another closure on the news, they cost me more trips,” Price said on Tuesday (May 11) during a guide trip in Empire. “After today or tomorrow, I figure that will be it for me. I’ll be out of business.”
Price said he believes the closures are having the opposite effect than intended.
“They make people worry even more,” he said. “(LDWF officials) are the ones giving us a black eye. By announcing more closures, they’re making people worry.”
Kip Plaisance of Tidewater Charters said he’s encountered the same problem.
“You just can’t make people understand it’s not that bad yet,” Plaisance said.
Gros said the traffic at his marina illustrates a lack of understanding that there is still plenty of water open for fishing in that part of the coast.
“I had one boat launch at my two marinas today (May 11),” Gros said. “Not one boat at each marina, but one boat between the two marinas
“The marina business is dependant on fishing reports and weather,” Gros said. “When the fishing reports and weather are good, I’ve had to turn them away in droves. You don’t have the opportunity to turn them right now.”
There has been some positive income flowing from cleanup crews to some of the marinas, but it’s barely enough.
“When the LDWF agents booked our lodges, it was music to my ears,” said Cindy Berry of Sweetwater Marina in Delacroix. “As long as we have the lodges booked, we can get by.”
Breton Sound Marina’s Glenn Sanchez agreed.
“I’m getting money from the back-down (used by clean-up crews), and I’m getting a little bit of business because we have the store,” Sanchez said. “But it’s a trickle compared to what I should be getting.”
One of the biggest problems with the entire event is the timing.
“The timing couldn’t be worse, especially with the winter we had down here,” Berry said. “We struggled because of the weather – even the die-hards weren’t coming out.”
Gros said it has been depressing because because the May through July season is when marina’s make the bulk of their year’s income
“Everything is heading toward a great summer, and now this comes in and cuts the blood flow,” he said. “If (the spill) had happened 60 to 90 days later, we would be much better off.
“Fifty percent of my income comes between now and July.”
Between the hurricanes and the oil spills, Gros said the industry is just getting hammered from all sides.
“It’s like trying to swat gnats in the marsh,” Gros said.
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