Fuel prices, weather weigh heavily on fishing agencies
But they're more worried about how skyrocketing fuel costs will affect tourism on Mustang Island this summer.
"I think, for anyone looking at the books and records and comparing it to past years, there's no way they can be anything but strongly pessimistic," said Mike Nugent, president of Port Aransas Boatmen Inc. Various factors come into play, including gas prices and fishing regulations, he said.
Nugent, who has been a charter boat operator for 30 years, said his bookings for July and August are the leanest he ever has seen.
"I'm hoping that, as we get into summer, (more) decide to go," Nugent said.
Like merchants everywhere, owners of several charter fishing boat businesses along Dennis Dreyer Municipal Marina said they have been forced to raise prices this year for charter outings in order to at least partially offset rising costs of doing business. Those higher costs include everything from fuel prices to fishing tackle expenses.
Not helping matters is the fact that the red snapper season is going to be shorter this year. The season opened June 1 in federal waters. It closes Aug. 5. In previous years, the season was from April 21 to Oct. 31.
Snapper season is year-round in state waters, which extend out nine nautical miles. But the snapper is more abundant in federal waters.
The National Marine Fisheries Service has imposed a shorter season to preserve the snapper population.
Kelly Owens, owner of Deep Sea Headquarters, said the red snapper situation isn't the biggest concern right now. Anglers this time of year are more interested in fish like ling, kingfish and dorado, he said.
Owens is more worried about high fuel prices. The expense of keeping his charter boats chugging along has forced him to raise prices for fishing trips 50 percent in the past few weeks. And even that wasn't enough to keep up with the climbing costs of gas, he said.
But there is talk that high fuel prices could have some benefit for Port Aransas. Texans might head to Port Aransas for vacation this summer rather than spend more money on trips that take them further away.
"I've had more than one person through here saying, 'We can't afford to go to Orlando this year,' " said Glenn Martin, owner of Woody's Sports Center.
"We're just hoping fuel prices don't get so high that a guy doesn't have to save his vacation money to get to work," Martin said.
Weather is a big and largely unpredictable factor in how summer tourism will fare. Rain on key weekends last year hurt fishing-oriented businesses in Port Aransas a lot.
"If we get good weather, we'll be OK," said Bobby Grumbles, owner of Fisherman's Wharf.
Paul Dirk, owner of Dolphin Docks, said the potential for rain isn't so worrisome as high winds that make the seas so rough that trips have to be cancelled. Already, a number of excursions from various docks have been called off due rough water in the past few weeks.
"The wind," Dirk said, "is a killer."