Tuesday, February 20 , 2018, 6:10 pm | Fair 56º


Captain’s Log: Choppy Financial Waters Ahead for Boating Industry

There's no shortage of challenges for folks who wish to fish. In the meantime, you might as well just ... go fishing.

A severe financial storm is pounding the boating and fishing industries in California and the rest of the nation. Industry leaders are casting worried looks to leeward shores and trying hard to steer a course away from financial shipwreck. Factors contributing to turbulence include record-high fuel prices, labor demands for increased wages, a staggering economy, and consumer worries about both the political future and their own tightening budgets. Steering a corporate vessel on a profitable course is increasingly perilous in these shoal waters.

Capt. David Bacon (Ramona Lisa McFadyen photo)
Some of our stalwart industry giants are bending in the wind. According to an article in Berkley’s Fishing Wire, Mercury Marine laid off 50 salaried employees Wednesday, further feeding fears that the boating industry’s troubles are far from over. Dennis Rooney, Mercury Marine’s vice president of human resources, reported that the choices were “difficult, but necessary.”

Mercury Marine officials have continually said 2008 was looking like it would be a very tough year for the company — and the entire industry. They’ve not ruled out further cuts if the economic situation doesn’t turn around. The company has made other belt-tightening moves, including putting its corporate jet and hangar in Fond du Lac, Wis., up for sale and not replacing Mercury Marine president Pat Mackey when he retired in February.

Bucyrus, Ohio-based Baja boats will cease operation at the end of May, putting 285 people out of work there. The company has announced plans to sell the Baja line to Fountain Powerboat Industries of Washington, N.C.

Mercury Marine and Baja are both subsidiaries of Brunswick, whose financial information shows a decline of boat sales in 2007 of approximately 10 percent. It would seem the company expects that trend to continue in 2008.

As the boating industry seems to be preparing for continuing lean times, we’re also hearing one of the nation’s major chain stores may be evaluating its entire line of outdoor equipment. Sources say fishing, hunting and other outdoor sports may become seasonal items with Wal-Mart as that company continues attempts to contemporize its stores and product lines. Should that happen, it could further affect fishing gear manufacturers already navigating treacherous waters.

Here in California we have additional problems. Recent news hype about the expansion of the Marine Protected Areas into federal waters around the Channel Islands, expansion of sanctuaries off of Northern California, the territory-gobbling mentality of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) process that closes more areas to fishing, the Northern California salmon disaster resulting from bad management and water wars, the spread of intrusive quagga mussels throughout our lake system … all have a devastating effect on our local boating and fishing industries.

Some of these problems are fixable. We do not need more or expanded MPAs to manage our fisheries. We need to better manage and research our existing MPAs. The water wars and river system management problems in Northern California can be resolved to the benefit of the many fish that depend on water flow and access to spawning areas.

Other problems are tougher to fix, such as the reeling economy and lack of faith in our national political leaders. For the here and now, I simply recommend that you go out to enjoy a day of fishing and be thankful you can.

Capt. David Bacon operates WaveWalker Charters and is president of SOFTIN Inc., a new nonprofit group providing seafaring opportunities for those in need.

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