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ADSFR Forced to Cancel 2010 Events

By DAVID RAINER

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill claimed another victim this week. Just a couple of weeks ago, Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo officials vowed to maintain plans for the 78th annual rodeo and the Roy Martin Young Anglers Tournament in July. However, the reality of the spill’s impact on the northern Gulf Coast made the rodeo’s board of directors realize it would be impossible to hold the events in 2010 and both were canceled.

“We had already suffered through a tough economy and we had postured ourselves to where we were going to break records in sales and marketing,” Hartigan said. “We worked our way aggressively through that and now this. Now I’m looking for that third strike.

“I don’t want to give the perception that we’ve had our heads in the sand or ignoring this thing. I haven’t had a good night’s sleep since April 20th. I’ve reached out to other tournaments to see how they were dealing with it. I’ve talked with Dr. Bob (Shipp) and Dr. Sean (Powers) since this happened. We felt that with the information we had up until Monday that we were making the right decision to put this community event on. Our sponsors believed in what we were doing because we had 100-percent retention.”

With the closure of most of the of Gulf of Mexico waters in the northern Gulf to any type of fishing activity, not to mention the state waters both nearshore and some inshore areas, the hopes of even holding an inshore rodeo finally disappeared this week when Powers told the board it would be very unlikely that any closure would be lifted in the foreseeable future.

“Before we talked to Sean, we were thinking we could do an inshore tournament to support Dauphin Island,” said Hartigan, who admitted to waking up at 3 a.m. on several nights and checking the ROV video of the spill. “Talking to the real estate people they still had a 100-percent occupancy rate for the week of the rodeo, although they had had a lot of cancellations for the rest of the summer. That’s why we kept it as business as usual.

“Then we realized we wouldn’t have the opportunity to fish like we wanted to. We decided if we continued to press on we were going to put our sponsors and anglers in a position that it wouldn’t be fair to them. So we made the tough decision to cancel for this year and focus on next year.”

Powers, a marine scientist at USA, has had considerable experience with the effects of an oil spill, having visited the site of the Exxon Valdez spill numerous times in the last 10 years. The spill in Alaska’s Prince William Sound was one of the factors in the collapse of the herring fishery there, and Powers is concerned the Gulf spill could haven similar implications.

“The current project up there is to examine why the herring population has not recovered,” Powers said. “It’s kind of like our menhaden. It’s that large of a deal. If our menhaden hadn’t recovered in 20 years, we would be very worried. Herring is a big fishery up there and it’s kind of a central part of their food web.”

Powers said he fully understands and supports the ADSFR officials’ decision to cancel the 2010 events after what he learned from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) and the Alabama Marine Resources Division and what it would take to reopen the fishery.

“Say if no more oil was seen tomorrow, which is unlikely, how long would it take for the feds and state to open the fishery?” Powers said. “The quickest under the current plan would be three to four weeks. But essentially we’re treading on new ground because the target moves daily.

“Obviously, the feds and state would want assurances that the health safety issues are addressed. Sensory tests would have to be conducted. And then there would have to be some time for a contaminant analysis to come back. I think it was clear at that point that the logistics would not allow any appreciable waters to be open for a July date. Then the question was could they reschedule the rodeo. Then it becomes a best estimate of when the oil will stop flowing, and that’s anybody’s guess. Given all of the evidence, I think it was the only decision they could make.”

Powers did have at least a bit of good news from the Alabama Coast.

“We haven’t seen, at least in Alabama, any big fish kills,” he said. “I know of no data that has shown any contamination in the seafood around the area.”

Although Powers expects fisheries managers to be very cautious when the Gulf is reopened to fishing after the spill, he also expects the Gulf fishery to be very resilient.

“There is hope,” he said. “The good thing we have going for us is that hydrocarbons are not like trace metals, not like mercury. They don’t bio-accumulate in the fish. The fish do purge themselves of any contaminants over a short period of time. The wild card is the contaminants associated with the dispersants. We really don’t know.

“Once you stop seeing oil in the water, more than likely the fish will start purging themselves of the oil in the tissue. That could be a relatively rapid process”.

That may be of some consolation to Mayor Jeff Collier of Dauphin Island, but he knows it’s going to be a summer of economic drought for his community.

“The Jaycees have done good job of trying to make it happen, but under the circumstances it’s hard to have a rodeo when you don’t have many places to fish,” Collier said. “As for the island, it’s just another devastating blow for the local economy. The oil spill has really hurt us from a tourism standpoint and now it’s knocking out a historic event.

“The rodeo was part of the island, yet at the same time, we understand the uphill battle the Jaycees were facing. It was out of their control, as well as out of our control.”

Collier said the real estate agents on the island are reporting a cancellation rate of 80-85 percent for the summer and fall.

“When you take the rodeo out of the mix that takes another four days worth of business out of the equation, not only the ones who stay on the island but the day trippers, as well,” he said.

Recent rodeos have drawn as many as 80,000 to 85,000 people to the island during the four days of fishing.

“With more than 3,000 anglers, by the time you bring in spouses and friends, it’s a big impact to the island,” Collier said.

Collier said the effect of the oil spill hasn’t been as severe on the island as it has in other areas. He said the globs of oil – from the size of a dime to the size of a hand – have been quickly cleaned up when they come ashore.

“The word we’re trying to get out is we’re open for business,” he said. “The beaches are still open and there are a lot of other amenities on the island. You’ve got the Estuarium, Fort Gaines, birding, jogging, and golf. There’s still a lot to do. 

“You know we can’t control this thing. We’ve just got to do all we can do to react to it and cope with it. The two big questions in my mind is No. 1, what is the long-term impact the Gulf Coast in terms of habitat and fisheries? The other big question is the economy. How long will it be until tourists feel comfortable about coming back and staying with us?”

Hartigan said the Mobile Jaycees will also have to adjust to the economic conditions and consider other options to raise money for the rodeo’s charitable donations.

“We’re thinking about T-shirts to sell or getting several bands and having a festival,” he said. “We want to do something, because it’s important that we find the money for our charities. We’ve got to find the money to put on the Christmas shopping tour. We make donations to the University of South Alabama (USA) Marine Sciences department and provide scholarships. We have other charities we support monthly and we’re still committed to those. We’ve just to figure out how to do that. But a fishing tournament is not in the picture this year.”

PHOTO: (By David Rainer) Sharks always garnered great attention at the Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo. Unfortunately, the impact of the oil spill on the Gulf Coast has forced rodeo officials to cancel both the 78th annual rodeo and the Roy Martin Young Anglers Tournament.

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