Coronavirus idles Keys fishing fleet

Coronavirus idles Keys fishing fleet

FLORIDA KEYS — The crippling clutch of the COVID-19 global health crisis has hit the Florida Keys fishing industry particularly hard, leaving both charter and commercial operators dead in the water during normally bonanza months.

The sportfishing charter fleet typically relies heavily on the winter-to-spring tourist season for the bulk of their annual earnings, but because of the coronavirus pandemic, the closing of lodges and non-essential businesses have dried up nearly all of their revenue stream.

“We are normally cranking and firing on all cylinders right now,” said Capt. Kit Carson Mobley, owner of DirtyBoat Charters in Islamorada, which caters to offshore recreational anglers.

“I’ve canceled more than 30 trips from now until May 1, and I probably have another 30 trips scheduled after that which are probably going to cancel. People are starting to cancel the June and July dates. The losses are unspeakable. Last March I did 45 trips in 30 days in comparison.”

Mobley, like other local fishing captains, doesn’t know when he’ll be able to book clients again and that uncertainty has him fearful. He’s hoping the release of $300 million in federal stimulus funds to assist the nation’s fishery participants will trickle down to local fishing captains.

“It’s excellent that the feds have lifted restrictions on unemployment and we’re happy that we’ve gotten that response. That’s intended to get us through the initial eight weeks of hell,” Mobley said. “It’s been more than two years since Hurricane Irma and we are still waiting on relief from that. My industry, the charter fleet, is in danger of collapsing.”

Mobley started an online petition asking Gov. Ron DeSantis for funding to help Florida’s recreational fishing industry.

“We realize ours is but one of many businesses throughout the state in need. Consider, though, saltwater recreational fishing generated $7.9 billion for the state’s economy and supported 114,898 jobs in 2014 according to the most recent data from NOAA Fisheries,” the petition states.

Jon Reynolds who charters Drop Back out of Islamorada’s Whale Harbor, helped originate the petition, which last week had gathered about 3,500 signatures.

“This is a huge bucket with not a lot of money in it. It’s not going to be enough. This petition is basically a megaphone for our voices and ultimately we are trying to educate fellow fishermen who may not be aware of what funds may be out there or where to go,” he said. “Besides the BP oil spill, which was an entirely different crisis, charter boats are hardly recognized for financial relief the same way commercial fishermen, the seafood businesses and restaurants are.”

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