Sunday, June 13, 2010

Charter boat fleet ‘100 percent out of business’

Charter boat fleet ‘100 percent out of business’

Staff file photo | Robert DeWitt
Art Jones, captain of the charter boat Dana J, has been hesitant to work for BP in the oil spill cleanup effort. He is concerned about the long-term effects on Gulf fishing.
By Robert DeWitt Outdoors Writer
Published: Sunday, June 13, 2010 at 3:30 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, June 12, 2010 at 9:50 p.m.
ORANGE BEACH | At a time when their decks should be packed with clients, the Alabama charter boat fleet can’t even go fishing.

“We are 100 percent out of business,” said Ben Fairey, captain of the charter boat Necessity and vice president of fisheries management for the Orange Beach Fishing Association.
All state and federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico within reach of Orange Beach are closed to fishing because of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. It couldn’t come at a worse time. Red Snapper season, the charter fleet’s bread and butter, opened June 1, ironically the day federal officials closed fishing in the waters off Alabama.
Some charter captains are fending off starvation by working for BP.
“BP fortunately has the Vessel of Opportunity program,” Fairey said. “They’re used in various aspects of this oil spill situation.”
But charter captains are fishermen, not oil spill cleanup crews.
“Right now, it’s doing a good job keeping them employed,” Fairey said. “It’s not something that’s going to be long term. There are some vessels that are not participating or have not been activated by BP. Those are the minority. Most of the guys keep working.”
Robert Kritzmire, an inshore fishing guide with a 24-foot center console boat, would like to be working for BP. He has Coast Guard certification and hazardous materials training but he hasn’t gotten a call from BP.
“They promised to hire charter captains first,” Kritzmire said. “They said we damaged you guys so we’re going to put you to work first. But they haven’t called me.”

Kritzmire is frustrated because the company appears to be hiring boats that aren’t as well suited to the work operated by people who aren’t charter captains.
Because he specializes in fishing in the bay, there are still areas Kritzmire can fish. But he’s booking very few trips.
“There’s nobody here to fish,” Kritzmire said. “I’ve been able to fish a little bit but there’s nobody here.”
Inshore guide Jay Gunn said the fish are biting and he’s guided some trips.
“We’re just having to fish in the areas that are open,” Gunn said. “We caught them this morning. Fishing in the bay is great. We just have to avoid the areas that are closed.”
The problem is that he’s running out of clients. Tourists are canceling their trips to the coast.
“There’s nobody down here,” Gunn said. “It’s kind of bleak. This is all stuff I’ve already booked. I haven’t had a call in weeks — literally weeks.”
Gunn said he isn’t interested in working for BP.
“I’m going to try to keep fishing as long as I can,” Gunn said. “I don’t want any part of BP’s money. I want to fish. That’s what I do.”
Offshore charter captain Art Jones couldn’t agree more. Jones captains the Dana J, a 39-foot charter boat based in Orange Beach, and has fished in the northern Gulf for more than 40 years. He hasn’t hired out the Dana J to BP.
“I don’t really want to go to work for the people who put me out of business,” Jones said. “They supposedly are going to pay me all my lost money. I’ve gotten a $5,000 check but I’m losing that much a week.”
Jones is concerned about the impact the oil spill will have on the industry’s health.

“It’s just my idea about it, but I think it’s going to wreck it,” Jones said. “Most of the younger captains in this business, I don’t think their pockets are deep enough to wait until it blows over, if it blows over.”
Not only did the spill come at a bad time of year, it came at a point in history when the charter industry has faced issues that caused it to struggle.
“We had a direct hit from Hurricane Ivan in 2004 and we had a serious brush with Katrina in 2005,” Fairey said. “Then came the really restrictive red snapper regulations to end over fishing. That hurt our industry. We’ve taken our lumps and tried to rebuild our fishery and now comes this.”
Jones said the drastically reduced seasons and limits in recent years have dealt a blow to charter boats.
“When we were running six months out of the year, we made a good living,” Jones said. “We weren’t getting rich, but we made a darn good living.”
Shortened seasons changed that.
“I’d say my business was already cut down by about 40 percent,” he said. “It seemed this year that the bookings were getting better. I had 17 trips on the books in June but I’m canceling them.”
Jones is in a better position to weather the situation than most.
“Everything I’ve got is paid for,” Jones said. “I don’t owe anybody anything. I’ve got money set aside to retire. I’m getting on up there. But I didn’t want some crap like this to put me out of it. I was still enjoying it and I wanted to do it for a while.”
Younger captains don’t have that luxury, Jones said. And the credit crisis that hit in 2008 made it harder for them to borrow money.

Charter fishing trips are just part of the $2.3 billion a year spent by tourists in Baldwin County. But the oil spill has impacted their business perhaps more than any other, particularly coming on the heels of losses from hurricanes and more restrictive seasons and limits, said Mike Foster, vice president of marking for Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism.
“For the charter fishermen who can’t go out during the prime season, it has a huge impact,” Foster said. “It’s a difficult thing for the charter fleet and I’m not sure what’s going to happen. It depends on how long it goes on.”
The Gulf Fisheries Council will hold its meeting next week and charter captains will ask for some relief with regard to the season. With snapper season ending July 24, the oil spill will likely cause the charter fleet to miss the entire season.
If the National Marine Fisheries Service reopens federal waters, Fairey said his organization plans to ask federal officials to allow the worst impacted states, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, to have a later snapper season. He doesn’t know how it would be received.
But concerns go well beyond just this year’s lost season. Scientists at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab announced last week that oxygen levels are low in the Gulf’s fishing grounds.
“Between that and the underwater oil plume, we are extremely concerned about the health of the Gulf of Mexico, seafood safety and the long term viability of the charter fleet,” Fairey said.
Thus far, none of the charter boats serving as oil slick spotters for BP have seen any fish kills, Fairey said.
Jones is concerned about what might happen if different interest groups become involved in health and safety issues.
“If tree huggers get involved in it, it will be wrecked,” Jones said. “I believe they’ll find something wrong with the fish and there may be something wrong with them.”
Adding to the frustration is the fact that no one knows how bad the spill will get before it’s stopped.
“Nobody knows that answer,” Fairey said. “Here we are at Day 53 and it’s still leaking.”

But Fairey said he’s an optimist and hopes to be fishing by fall.
“We’ve survived hurricanes, we’ve survived bad economic conditions, we’ve survived restrictive fishing regulations,” he said. “We’re going to survive this.”


  1. Don't know if you're aware of this other site tracking the spill, but you should be:

    There's a comment that everyone should read. He discusses how BP's actions only make sense in the context of the well pipe itself being compromised, which is just about as worst-case scenario as can be:

    READ IT, and spread the word!

  2. There is a new site launced to post yoour rage about the spill. It is titled Fed Up with the Killing of Birds and Plants or FUKBP for short. You can find it at

  3. I can choose not to get gas at BP stations.Will this change what has happened? NO. But if BP is brought to its knees because of a slick - how will other oil companies react? If the corporate memory of this disaster is the loss to the bottom financial line...the prevention of such (which is what CEO's care about) will become paramount. Every cent BP loses is a warning to the others to invest more in safety. We as individuals have more control than we think we do.


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