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Date of Issue: July 30, 2008

Charter captains fear continued bridge closure will hurt

Island charter boat captains have enjoyed a solid year of business, despite an almost 50 percent increase in gas prices to run their boats. But any delay in the reopening of the Anna Maria Island Bridge beyond Nov. 13 could hurt their business more than rising fuel costs.

Success in this original Island industry comes by keeping operating costs at a minimum and having visitors on the Island, the captains said.

So far this year, the fishing business has been fair to good.

“I haven’t slowed down a bit,” said Capt. Mike Greig of Capt. Mike’s Charters. “It’s been real busy.”

Greig raises his charter prices by $25 to accommodate the higher fuel costs, but he maintains that price by buying fuel at an Island gas station rather than a marina, where gas can cost up to 90 cents more per gallon.

“But we’re still going good. I’m booked all week and I’m going to the [Florida] Keys next week” for a charter, he said. “Business has been great.”

If there’s an economic recession, it hasn’t hit the Island’s charter fishing business, said Capt. Mark Howard of Sumotime Charters.

“I had a real good season, the best I’ve had in the past six years,” said Howard. “And I’m still getting charters.”

While gas prices have increased, he tries to keep his operating expenses limited by fishing in locations closer to shore.

“I concentrate on the good spots I know that are in or near Anna Maria Sound. I don’t use as much gas. And I don’t drive as fast as I used to.”

Although his charter prices have gone up because of higher fuel costs, Howard maintains plenty of fishers are still coming to the Island and booking charters.

“I have noticed that I get more half-day charters. I cater to what people want. A lot of people from the Midwest enjoy the half-day trips.”

Capt. Steve Salgado of Complete Anglers has a somewhat different view because he operates a new 25-foot boat and can’t trailer it to gas up at a service station.

He’s stuck paying more than $5 a gallon for gas and had to increase his charter rates slightly to compensate for higher gas prices.

“It’s been a fair season, thanks to the economy,” said Salgado. “I’m still getting several calls a week and interest in a half-day charter is very good.” The slower economy, however, has caused him to lose some charters, he indicated.

Still, Salgado sees the silver lining.

“Business should start to pick up around mid-October. By the holidays, it should be good,” he said.

That optimism could change if the Anna Maria Island Bridge construction is delayed and the 45-day closure runs into Thanksgiving.

 

Bridge closure

The charter fishing captains had mixed views on the effects of the Sept. 29-Nov. 13 closure of the Anna Maria Island Bridge.

Their consensus is that there will be some slight effect in October, but if the bridge doesn’t reopen on Nov. 13 as planned and visitors can’t or won’t come to the Island, business could turn bad.

Salgado said that while he can pick up his charters anywhere - including the mainland side of Anna Maria Sound or on the Manatee River - if there are no people booking a charter because they’re not coming to the area, “that will hurt everybody.”

He acknowledged that September until mid-October is slow in the charter fishing industry, but November marks the return of the season.

Howard was optimistic as long as the bridge reopens on schedule. He said that his business should not be affected by the 45-day closure of the Anna Maria Island Bridge.

“It’s a slow time for everybody in the industry. But business starts picking up in late October. If we get into November and the bridge is still closed, it would hurt the entire Island, not just the charter industry,” he said.

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