By Mary Anne Windes
2020 has turned into a year of trials and patience-testing, but it didn’t start off that way. For the first time in many years, the captains received the great news that they were getting 61 days of Red Snapper season. One year, they only got six days of Red Snapper fishing, and that was a brutal hardship. This year, though, they got 61, and they thought this would finally be their year. Then…COVID-19 came.
Everyone was affected. For boats that only carry less than six passengers, it wasn’t as bad as for the larger boats. But there was definitely less business in town, and people were definitely holding onto their money rather than purchasing charter fishing trips. With the economy in a free fall, that’s the time when a party boat tends to be a more popular choice because of the lower cost. However, the party boats need about 17 passengers aboard to break even. So, when groups were limited to 10 aboard commercial fishing vessels, that stopped them in their tracks. For six weeks, the big boats sat at the docks, and the crews stayed on the beach. A few boats ran a few trips and the sight was tied boats at the dock on beautiful days when they would normally be out in the Gulf.
On a boat, there’s always plenty of maintenance to be done. Most crews were allowed to come to work and get paid, but the heat of the summer is NOT the time to do maintenance, and tips are vital. So, without customers, the income of the crews was severely diminished if not halted entirely.
Once the state lifted the restrictions of groups greater than 10 and short-term rentals were allowed, the people came back. Boy, are they back, and boy, do they want to do something! The two big party boats started off running with social distancing protocols in place plus mask requirements. But before long, they were carrying full loads, and masks were suggested but not required. Most don’t wear a mask, but they still try to keep the groups away from each other.
Fishing is great, but the seas have been rough this year. 2020! For example, one day the weatherman called for one-foot seas with 12 seconds between waves, and the seas were eight feet with little time between them. Many of the boats came back, but a few of the hard-core captains stayed to make at least a half-day trip.
The captains love what they do and are used to hardships. They’ll keep fishing and making people’s dreams come true for as long as they can. We just can’t wait to see what 2020 serves up!