As compassionate human beings, we all have to be sympathetic for professional charter captains operating in Panama City, Destin and Pensacola. To say their lives have been recently taken on a roller coaster ride and that the future is filled with uncertainty would be a gross understatement. The same actually holds true across the entire northern Gulf Coast where the lives of countless commercial and recreational fishermen from Florida to Texas have been turned upside down by the Deepwater Horizon tragedy, the worst environmental disaster of its kind in U.S. history. These guys were completely sideswiped with absolutely no warning. One day everything is fine, and just a few weeks later the entire northern Gulf is closed and upwards of 200 million gallons of oil have polluted their workplace.
Though a recent report from the National Oceanographic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) found that 75-percent of the oil spilled between late April and mid-July has been skimmed, dispersed or evaporated, the damaging environmental effects of this gooey mess are still widely unknown and will certainly be felt for many years. A large percentage of charter fishermen who were unexpectedly displaced by the spill are working temporary jobs assisting in the cleanup operation through the Vessels of Opportunity program. But as engineers move closer to permanently sealing the damaged oil well, which has likely been completed by the time you are reading this, BP's response to the clean-up effort will be drastically scaled back. Do not believe otherwise; the oil giant will not continue to pay vessel owner/operators $1,200.00/day for sitting idle. The river of cash will stop flowing.
For the immediate future, supporting those who made a living from popular Panhandle ports is not about if the seafood caught in the region's tainted waters is actually safe to eat. NOAA's Seafood Inspection Laboratory claims their state-of-the-art 'sensory analysis test' proves that it is. Experts sniffing fillets promise the fish smell so fresh that consumers have nothing to worry about. In spite of that, providing a helping hand now is about learning how to support emotional distraught. It's about demolished dreams and new beginnings. With an increase in suicide, alcohol abuse and divorce rates all of great concern, northern Gulf Coast captains are now facing unseen challenges that no news camera could depict. Our hearts go out to these guys and gals and sincerely hope they are able to piece their lives back together as soon as possible. Across the Florida Keys and the southeast, both situated just a few miles from the Gulf Stream we have been spared, but as originally predicted the Atlantic coastline could have been hit hard. Today, we could very well be facing the same challenges as our friends up north.
The many charter captains who have been fishing Pensacola and the surrounding rich, emerald green waters for the better part of their lives need to earn a living once supplemental claims and clean-up related employment opportunities dry out. For many it already has. Yet somehow these guys need to pick up where they left off in mid-April before the nightmare started. Maybe the solution lies in our past.
For many in the region, the tide has already turned. The swath of state waters off Pensacola that was closed due to the spill is now reopened. And just today, August 10, NOAA reopened 5,144 square miles of Federal Gulf waters to commercial and recreational fishing. A big portion of the offshore arena is still off limits, but if no more oil surfaces officials will continue reopening closed waters.
Plus, regardless of what you may have heard or believe reliable sources across the Florida Panhandle report that fishing is excellent both inshore and off. Anglers are cashing in on a solid shallow water bite with Spanish mackerel, ladyfish and bluefish ready and willing at all of the usual haunts. Redfish reports are coming in strong from Panama City, and the speckled trout bite has been consistent. Off the beaches king mackerel fishing in particular is red hot from Port St. Joe to Perdido Key. Miraculously, early fall fishing in the region is just as good as it has ever been.
It's clear what our friends and fellow fishermen need now more than ever is the support and trust of our entire country. They need to book charters and to get to work restoring the region's tainted image. During the summer-long crisis the media painted a dismal picture of the Panhandle, convincing traveling anglers across the country and beyond that the entire northern Gulf Coast was completely covered in oil. Nothing could be further from the truth. Panhandle beaches are clean and safe. The region's waters are free of oil and the fishing is exceptional. Local businesses are anxious to get back on track and to regain their precious way of life. Together, by visiting the region and enjoying its wonderful bounties, we can certainly help make that happen.
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