Charter boat industry left reeling by oil spill

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - For Gulf Coast charter boat captains, 2010 was a year to forget. The BP oil spill sank the season. Now that the entire Gulf is open to fishing, those same captains are hoping to reel in more customers. But uncertainty is still in the air.

"It's going to take a lot of time and nobody knows how long it's going to take," said Kenny Barhanovich, who's been a boat captain since 1960. "We don't know what's out there."

When you compare the charter boat bookings for the beginning of April 2010 to April 2011, the difference is alarming.

"We had a good response last year. I had something like about 60 something phones calls and I booked about 49 trips by the middle of April. Now I've probably got ten trips in the books for all year," Barhanovich said.

Another captain, Clarence Seymour, is getting ready for a fishing trip, by himself. The waters are full of fish, but paying customers are much harder to catch.

"We are hoping for the best," Seymour said.  "All you can do is hang in there and see what happens."

Perception is everything, and right now the national perception about the health of the Gulf is not good. Just ask Craig Gusa, the captain of High Times. These days, the times are not very high at all.

"We're way off from where we ought to be," Gusa said.  "It's hard to get things started. A lot of people have the perception of what's going on and how much oil is here and everything."

At the Ocean Springs Marine Mart, Kenny DiNero is scooping shrimp as bait for local fishermen.  It's something he didn't do much of last year.  He has never received a dime in compensation from BP, and is upset.

"It's very, very frustrating," DiNero said. "When you see the proximity to the water that I am, if I got any closer I'd fall in. And I think when it all washed out at the end of the year, I was about 33 or 34 percent down from where I was on my sales from the year before."

Despite the losses, the captains and bait dealers are a stoic and stubborn bunch. And they're not about to give up their livelihood.

"You gotta be dumb to be in this business," Seymour said. "I mean, we love it, and it's what we do and it's what I enjoy."

The best months for fishing, and charter boat outings, are typically during the summer into late fall.

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