In 1991, an out-of-town developer took control of one of the largest charter boat docks in Destin. Rumors flew about replacing the charter boats with yachts in the World’s Luckiest Fishing Village. Destin’s charter fishing fleet’s future was threatened and had no security.
The best solution was for the fishing fleet to build their own marina, but land prices were astronomical. It seemed like a long shot, but they were independent, opinionated, and determined, and when they joined forces, they were unstoppable.
They found a Harbor parcel on the market in the center of town that was wide, deep, and undeveloped. Some problems were how to raise the money, could the permits be obtained, and could they get a congressionally designated channel moved. They had to secure the land without knowing the answers to these questions, but they made a deal.
They had previously formed the Destin Fisherman’s Cooperative (Co-op) as a means of purchasing bulk fuel, bait and ice. The Co-Op was over 100 members strong, but the Co-Op’s corporate structure made the purchase impossible. A new corporation was formed, Destin Fishing Fleet, Inc. The stock was offered first to Co-Op members. To be a member, you had to own at least 51% of your boat, have a captain’s license, earn at least 50% of your income from fishing, be a member of the Destin Charter Boat Association, and live in the immediate area. Stock was also sold to “Friends of Fishermen” who had to be approved by 100% vote.
Most of the money was raised by placing liens on boats, second mortgages on homes, and calling on customers for support. But, this was a chance to secure their future. They raised over 3/4 of a million dollars and bought the land. It was a gutsy move.
They had their work cut out for them. The state permitting agencies were not looking favorably towards granting permits for construction. The initial application was rejected. The City of Destin and the Chamber of Commerce backed the fishermen which threw considerable weight, but it wasn’t enough, so local politicians got involved. Finally, after a long struggle and a lot of money, the permits were granted including the relocation of the congressionally designated navigational channel.
The Destin Fishing Fleet Marina was completed in September of 1994. It proudly hosts 40 boat slips that were built by Destin fishermen to preserve and protect the future of the fishing industry in Destin.
Less than a year into operation, Hurricane Opal descended onto Destin with all of its fury on Oct. 4 at the beginning of the Destin Fishing Rodeo. All of the marina’s boats were evacuated and spared from harm. However, boats from other marinas broke loose and crashed the dock tearing down pilings, the dock, the boardwalk, electrical and water lines, signage, the booking booth, light fixtures and fuel pumps. Two large boats landed in the parking lot eating the asphalt with their oil and fuel spillage. It was devastating to see the beautiful marina destroyed. The Destin Fishing Rodeo was prepared to cancel the tournament for the year, but the very next day, the fishermen and their families, friends, neighbors, and allies came out and manually put the marina back together. Within three days, the dock was operational and the Destin Fishing Rodeo began weigh-ins again.
The Destin Fishing Fleet Marina is home to the largest charter fleet in Florida. Upland conveniences include Brotula’s Seafood House & Steamer which serves Gulf to table fresh fish, the Destin Fisherman’s Co-Op which provides fuel, bait, ice, and other fishing related necessities, plus several other businesses.
The Destin Fishing Fleet Marina is a family atmosphere destination where children are welcome. Tourists and locals alike love to watch the boats come in to see the huge catches of fish thrown on the dock, hung up for photographs, and filleted on site. Parking is free for tenants and their customers, and there’s plenty of it.