Between the ongoing oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico and the vast areas of state and federal waters now closed to fishing, without immediate financial assistance, many of the region's recreational fishing-dependent businesses may not be in business by the 4th of July.
A post-Memorial Day survey of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida recreational fishing-dependent business owners, conducted by the American Sportfishing Association (ASA), found that over 85 percent of the owners surveyed won't survive the oil leak's fallout without immediate financial assistance. Compared to Memorial Day 2009, overall sales were down an average of 47 percent. In Louisiana, which has borne the brunt of the oil leak's impact, sales were down an average of 55 percent with some businesses reporting sales as much as 90 percent off from last year's Memorial Day weekend. In Florida, sales were down an average of 35 percent, even though the oil leak is still making its way to shore. The majority of the survey respondents are located within five to 25 miles of the coast.
"It's clear that this ongoing oil leak is having a disastrous impact on small business owners. Memorial Day weekend brings tens of thousands of people to the Gulf region and tackle dealers, their families and employees depend on that business. It's imperative that financial assistance reach these people immediately," said ASA President and CEO Mike Nussman. "Few businesses can survive the loss of 50 percent or more of their business. It's just not possible. We're calling on the administration to ensure that funds are immediately available across the Gulf region."
According to Gail and James Gelé, owners of Professional Sport Shop, Inc., in New Orleans, La., the impact of the ill-fated Deepwater Horizon oil leak has impacted their business far more than they expected. "Our business is a small retail and repair shop servicing fishermen of the northern Gulf. We have been in business since April 1948 and have made it through many hurdles including Hurricane Katrina. We have always looked forward, never looking back other than to learn from our mistakes. We always look for the light at the end of the tunnel. However with this disaster, we can't find the end of the tunnel."
In response to a request by Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), on June 2, 2010, U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke added Florida to the May 24, Gulf of Mexico fishery disaster declaration due to the economic impact on recreational and commercial fisheries. The June 2 announcement adds Florida to Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Upon a fisheries disaster declaration, Congress must appropriate funds for the affected communities.
On May 27, the Senate approved its 2010 Supplemental Appropriations bill which included an amendment submitted by Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), ranking member of the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, that provides $15 million for fishery-dependent businesses harmed by the BP Deepwater Horizon oil leak. ASA is working to ensure that recreational fishing-dependent businesses receive financial assistance and are represented in other economic and conservation recovery efforts. ASA also urged other Members of the Senate to support Shelby's amendment and Nelson's request for disaster declaration.
"We also urge the House of Representatives to follow suit and ensure that recreational fishing-dependent businesses are including in its 2010 Supplemental Appropriations bill," said ASA Vice President Gordon Robertson.
"The sportfishing industry thanks Senators Shelby and Nelson for recognizing the enormous scope of this disaster and their work to ensure that recreational fishing-dependent businesses are included in the financial aid packages," said Nussman. "The next crucial step is to get those funds in the hands of the people who need it the most."
ASA sent letters to Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke and to the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations urging that they address and mitigate the impacts on the recreational fishing-dependent business community.