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Recreational fishing closures bad for business

CHARLESTON (AP) — This time of year the Charleston Marina is usually a bustling place with sport fishers taking advantage of the good weather before the rains come, but recent bottom fishing closures have driven much of that business away.

"On a beautiful day like today, the marina parking lot should be filled with trailers and boats, but there's hardly anybody here," Harbormaster John Buckley said recently.

Bottomfishing has opened back up with restrictions. Anglers going bottomfishing must be outside of the 40 fathom line, and use long-leader gear. However, the economic damage to the Charleston community has already been done.

"I've counted the number of trips that I've lost and canceled, and the dollar figure on that is right around $4,000 worth of trips. That doesn't include trips I would have booked in the future. We work all year long and we meet our expenses, but the end of the season is when we're counting on making our profit that we're going to live off of. That just didn't happen this year," said Captain John Blanchard, owner of Sharky's Charters.

Many of these Charleston businesses are upset with the closure because of the lack of communication they've had with Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

"We didn't get any warning essentially that this closure was going to happen. All of a sudden we get two days' notice that they're going to close the season. There was no warning, we weren't able to plan for it," Blanchard said.

A press release from ODFW about the closure came out Tuesday, Sept. 12, and the fishery was closed by Sept. 18.

"This has been an absolutely devastating hit to us. We went from the busiest time of year, where we make money that pays our bills and keeps our employees paid, to losing 90 percent of our overall income within about 36 hours," said Rob Gensorek, owner of Basin Tackle.

After months of continuous growth, the closure forced Gensorek to lay off all of his employees. Luckily he was able to stay open, but business has come to a grinding halt.

"It's just me, and I'm not even paying myself a wage anymore," Gensorek said.

The recreational fishing industry in Charleston has a wide reach economically. Local restaurants such as Crabby Cakes Bakery have also seen a slow down since the closure.

"There's no sportsmen in town at all, so nobody comes here for their coffee in the morning like they were," Crabby Cakes Bakery owner Marvin Terry said. "We've lost half of our business."

Bottomfishing was closed because quotas were reached faster than expected, and they're trying to protect yelloweye rockfish populations.

"That yelloweye rockfish is a long-lived species, they claim it lives 100 years plus," Blanchard said. "It takes a long time to reproduce and grow. It's essentially the spotted owl of the recreational fleet. It's doing exactly what the spotted owl did to the timber industry."

At a public meeting in early August, ODFW had a discussion about bottomfishing nearing quotas, asking members of the public what they thought should be done about it. According to Blanchard, the fishermen at the meeting were adamant about not closing the fishery, instead proposing that bag limits be lowered.

"We're not fighting a lack of resources; we're fighting politics and management," Gensorek said. "There's a lot of fish out there, but they've set up a quota system that I think is inherently flawed. We're not protecting fish with this, we're just simply hurting people. If it was hurting the fish, and the stocks were down, I'd be one of the first people rallying to do something, because that's our business."

In this Friday, Sept. 29, photo, Charleston Marina is quieter than usual after the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife closed bottomfishing off the coast. [Nicholas Johnson/The World via AP]