Island fishing captains hope for tourist boom
Capt. Craig Madsen, left, baits his hook July 8, while Capt. Mac Gregory flips bait out from the tank of his 24-foot Robin outside the Mainsail Marina in Holmes Beach. Islander Photo: Nick Walter
Some Anna Maria Island charter boat captains are anticipating they will dodge the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and possibly benefit from an increase in tourism.
With the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently releasing a study that projected the Island has a 1 percent chance of seeing any oil, the captains think visiting fishers will funnel to the area from the Panhandle and other Southern states.
Some captains, such as Capt. Warren Girle, already have noticed increased clientele. He said three out of his six charters last week were from anglers who normally book fishing trips in the Pensacola area, which has been touched by oil.
“The fishermen said, ‘We found Anna Maria Island on the Internet and it’s one little gem,’” Girle said. “And they said now they’ll be back every year. This may create a new clientele base down here.”
Girle hopes an increase in sport fishers to the Island boosts revenue increases at hotels and restaurants. “It could put a lot of money into the community,” he said.
Capt. Craig Madsen, who charters out of Mainsail Marina at Holmes Beach, said he recently booked two groups of fishers from Alabama and Mississippi who would normally have been booked redfish trips in Louisiana.
But Madsen isn’t completely sold on the idea of a noticeable increase in fishing clientele on the Island.
“I think if the oil hits the keys, it affects all of us,” Madsen said. “Because if it hits the keys, people are just going to assume it hit us all here.”
NOAA has said its models do not account for hurricanes, but that at the worst, a hurricane would scatter the oil.
However, some visitors may be missing that message.
“We have a lot of people scared to come fish because of the oil,” said Capt. Larry McGuire out of the Cortez Fishing Center. “My take is, if the oil doesn’t hit us, which I don’t think it will, and it may stay in the Panhandle, Texas and Louisiana, and maybe miss west central Florida, we’re going to have a lot more business here.”
The Bureau of Seafood and Marketing and the Florida Department of Agriculture, meanwhile, continued to report Florida seafood is safe, plentiful and available.