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Florida Keys charter industry in ‘danger of collapsing’

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Charter boat skippers in Florida Keys say the destination has been left ‘dead in the water’.

Charter boat skippers in one of the world’s most popular fishing destinations have been left ‘dead in the water’ in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The effects of the virus on peak season months in the Florida Keys have seen business grind to a halt and irreplaceable seasonal earnings dry up.

Captain Kit Carson Mobley, owner of DirtyBoat Charters, in Islamorada, has cancelled more than 30 trips up to May 1 and believes he may have to write off just as many after that. Customers are already starting to cancel for June and July.

“The losses are unspeakable,” he told keynews.com. “Last year I did 45 trips in March alone. The charter fleet industry is in danger of collapsing.”

He’s hoping that $300 million in federal funding will filter down to his industry, but is not hopeful because relief for Hurricane Irma two years ago has still not materialised . He has started an online petition asking Governor Ron DeSantis for financial support for Florida’s recreational fishing industry.

The petition concedes that many other businesses are in need, but highlights that the most recent data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries identifies that recreational fishing generated $7.9 billion for the state’s economy and supported 114,898 jobs in 2014.

Another Islamorada skipper, Jon Reynolds, believes that charter fishing will see very little of the $300 million in funding, despite suffering the longest period of sustainable damage.

“Charter boats are hardly recognised for financial relief in the same way as commercial fishermen, the seafood business and restaurants,” he says.

“The rest of the world is reeling from this, but we’ve lost our entire business. We’ve lost our season and other industries haven’t. We are urging our legislators to go bat for us.”

Florida Keys Fishing Guides Association Commodore, Steve Friedman, has been in touch with state officials to try to secure funds for local guides. “When 70% of your income comes from a short amount of time, which is right in the middle of this pandemic, it hurts,” he said. “This is pretty devastating.”

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