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Thread: Business New Haven's Article on Charter Captains!

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    Business New Haven's Article on Charter Captains!

    Featuring ME!!!

  2. #2
    "Possum"   Brad's Avatar
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    Jun 2006
    Home Port
    Coastal New England
    Here's the whole article on Captain Chucky

    ...a pretty good one too.

    Quoted from Business New Haven
    by Bonnie Blake
    Faced with encroaching regulation and the vagaries of Mother Nature, Connecticut charter captains struggle to stay afloat.

    The water turns to liquid gold as the sun surges over the horizon and Captain Chuck Moon smoothly reels in the first fish of the day - a feisty seven-pound striped bass.

    From beginning to end, Moon makes the process of fishing look no more complicated than a small boy and his wooden pole expectantly casting a line baited with the earthworms he dug up in his back yard. Yet catching that one fish involved hours of preparation, years of education and experience, and thousands of dollars in equipment and licensing fees.

    Chartering his own boat will never make Moon rich, but that's not why he and the roughly 40 other charter boat captains in Connecticut drag themselves out of bed and head out on their boats at 3 a.m. to catch live bait in preparation for a 5 a.m. charter. A half-day charter for these guys involves more than a full day of preparation and cleanup, and Moon even goes out scouting for the best fishing spots the day before his charters to ensure that his clients have a successful fishing experience.

    Moon, who operates his Full Moon Fishing & Tackle Shop out of Pier 66 Marina in Branford, graciously invited me to join him on his Friday morning scouting expedition, and I got to experience just a bit of what it takes to be a good charter fishing boat captain.
    The charter, or sport, fishing business is a complicated one fraught with rules and regulations, licenses and permits. The business of fishing is divided into two distinct realms - commercial and recreational. Commercial fishermen can sell what they catch, recreational fishermen cannot.

    While charter captains are paid to take people out on the water to fish, neither the captain nor his passengers may sell the fish; thus their business is considered recreational fishing. Charter captains, who are allowed to take out a maximum of six passengers per trip, take great pride in the fishing expertise they offer their clients, and take exception to being lumped in with the party boats, which can handle 150 or more people for fishing and partying, but offer little guidance from the crew.

    Becoming a charter captain starts with proficiency in boating, which is regulated by the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG). Due to the need for managing and conserving the fish population, the actual fishing is governed by the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection's (DEP) Division of Natural Resources, Marine Fisheries Division. According to Marine Fisheries Director Eric Smith, the DEP is charged with maintaining the health of the fish populations in Connecticut.

    The Coast Guard, charged with boating safety, requires background checks, a 60-hour course and $500 fee to license charter captains to take people out for money. Every five years captains must take a refresher course to renew their license, for a $150 fee.

    Prospective captains must also pass a physical and receive certification for CPR and First Aid (which also requires refresher courses and recertification every two years). Captains must also submit to random drug testing, and the Coast Guard has the right to board and inspect charter boats to ensure they are operating safely.

    Securing the right to fish is more complicated. USCG-licensed captains must also be licensed by the DEP to catch fish for hire. This instrument is known as a finfish landing license, which costs $250 and must be renewed annually.

    The DEP issues regulations establishing the number of each species of fish a person may catch per day, the minimum size allowed for each species (fish that are smaller must be released safely to allow for repopulation), and the months during which each species may be fished (season).

    Captains are required to file catch reports to verify compliance. They are also subject to dockside monitoring by DEP officials. The DEP also publishes a very specific list of permitted fishing gear and bait - even catching the bait itself is regulated, and a license required for gillnetting for menhaden (bunker) costs an annual fee of $50.

    To understand the need for such restrictions, Smith points to the severely depleted New England fisheries back in the 1970s caused by over-fishing and a lack of comprehensive fishery management. Anyone could fish anywhere, he notes.

    Indeed, New England waters were very popular with foreign fishing vessels, which regularly fished directly off our coasts, depleting our fisheries to near-crisis levels. This triggered passage of the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA) of 1976, which restricted entry into the fishing business and created a framework for conservation and management of fisheries through scientific research into fish populations and environments.

    This act is now up for reauthorization, and the U.S. Senate and House have proposed versions of the new act. The recently approved Senate version would place even tougher restrictions on fishing. Various editorials have proclaimed the House version to be more business-friendly.

    The original legislation established eight regional fishing councils charged with restoring fish populations to sustainable levels over ten years. Critics complained that the act did not go far enough in specifying how to achieve this goal. Fishermen complained that the confusing web of overlapping management agencies and policies established by the MSA made doing their jobs difficult.
    The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) establishes harvest targets for all ten Atlantic coast states, but allows each state to meet these standards in its own way. Thus each state council might create different regulations. The absence of consistency in regulations has created confusion for anglers trying to adhere to them.

    Each year, based on new research figures, the federal government releases a report establishing fishery-management goals. Connecticut's DEP interprets these reports, determines whether regulations need to be tightened or loosened for each species, and issues the fishing limits for the upcoming season.

    Unfortunately, the DEP's annual 55-page Connecticut Angler's Guide, which offers useful fishing tips and regulations on fishing for each species of fish, is printed before that year's limits are established, thus the limits are often inaccurate, and anglers are cautioned to "visit or contact Marine Fisheries (860-434-6043) for current regulations."

    This can be particularly frustrating to Connecticut fishermen, pole in hand, ready to set off on a fishing trip (without their laptops or cell phones), notes Dee's Bait & Tackle Shop owner Peter (Dee) DeGregorio, who provides the booklets to his customers.

    I visited Dee's Fair Haven shop on the advice of another valued fishing expert, Captain James Wiesenberg (better known as Captain James), who claimed that no fish story would be complete without a visit to this family-owned business founded a half-century ago by DeGregorio's father. Captain James and Dee spoke about the challenges faced by anglers while a steady stream of customers stopped by to make a purchase, get advice or show off their catch. Mounted on the wall is a mammoth 75-pound striped bass, believed to be the largest ever landed in Connecticut. Captain Moon is also a regular customer.

    Smith agrees that from the perspective of a charter captain trying to develop a long-term business plan, the current practice of changing the fishing limits each year just as the season begins must be "maddening." However, he adds, "We all have the same objective: maintaining a healthy fishery."

    There is a fundamental difference in perspective, of course. The charter fishing industry wants changes in limits to be implemented slowly so they can plan accordingly, while conservation managers typically believe that protective measures need to be implemented quickly.

    All sources agree that charter fishermen have often not had much of a voice in public opinion or policymaking. This is not hard to understand as they are generally out on the water, away from communication devices, during the business day.

    That's why several years ago Wiesenberg, DeGregorio and a group of fishermen organized the Marine Advisory Group (MAG) to provide input at the state level into the regulatory processes affecting their business.

    Wiesenberg is pleased that Connecticut took the lead in forming a regional cooperative alliance with Rhode Island, New York and Massachusetts to establish common fishing limits. Charter captains had complained that Massachusetts' far higher catch limits encouraged clients to bypass Connecticut charter services to travel to Bay State waterways, where they could take home four times the number of fish.

    But back to my fish story. Although I am not a morning person, I have to admit that watching a vibrant sunrise over sparkling water is an unforgettable experience. And if I weren't thrilled enough by an environment where the loudest noise is that of the water lapping against the boat's hull, or a flock of seagulls diving into the water and surfacing with fish gripped in their beaks, then certainly the joy of spending a morning without e-mails, faxes or phones made getting up in the middle of the night more than worthwhile.

    At 5 a.m. I boarded Moon's boat Full Moon, a 23-foot Polar Center Console, which would run about $80,000 new - plus an additional $7,000 for the fancy (and safety-oriented) electronics. (One sonar device even indicates when fish are passing beneath the boat's keel.)

    Live bait was on board, and the boat was fully gassed up - a typical trip devours 25 gallons at close to $4 per gallon for mid-grade gas. When I left the pier six hours later, I had a newfound appreciation for the work involved in being a charter captain, and was thoroughly impressed by my captain's skill and determination in making sure I had a safe and enjoyable fishing experience.

    Moon is not simply the captain of the boat, but also a fishing coach. He will do just about anything and everything to help customers catch fish, including securing the slimy squid or squirming eels to the hooks.

    When I finally succeeded in "boating" a five-pound bluefish, he removed the hook from the fish's mouth (I would probably have cried if I had to do it). He will also fillet the fish if requested.

    Moon had a multitude of hooks, lures and weights as well as seven different fishing poles on board, in case any went overboard or were broken (fortunately, that didn't happen this trip).

    He provides about $75 worth of equipment for each customer. He showed me how many feet of line to let out to reach targeted fish (some modern rods have digital readers showing the length of line out). When I felt a tug on my line, he could tell whether I had caught my line on the bottom or there was a fish nibbling at the bait.

    Fishing is a lot harder than this novice angler had imagined, and several times I allowed fish to nibble away the bait without hooking them. The first three times I got a fish hooked, I lost them, but Moon patiently showed me how to develop a rhythm for reeling in the fish - fast but steady, all the while pulling up on the rod.

    After the fourth battle with a fish, my arms were aching. It's not easy to reel in 160 feet of line attached to a five-pound fish determined to take off with your bait, line - and possibly even your rod.

    In addition to the challenges of increasingly restrictive fishing regulations, escalating fuel costs and rising costs for licenses, taxes, equipment and mooring, there is Mother Nature.

    Threatening weather can prevent a captain from taking out a charter, depriving him of a day's pay, which can never be made up. In addition, the fish don't always go along with the game plan. Moon says his biggest concern is being "skunked" - having a day when the fish just don't bite.

    He goes to great lengths to ensure that never happens. When the fish weren't biting in one area, he moved us to another reef to be sure I experienced the thrill of catching my own fish. I would have been quite content with staring out at the beautiful water or the great mansions along the water's edge.

    Moon charges $300 for a half-day (five-hour) charter, and $450 for a full eight-hour charter. His 5 a.m. sunrise charter gets clients back to their desks by noon, or they can go out after work for a sunset trip. He typically takes out only two or three passengers so that he might give each his personal attention.

    Clients typically include fathers and sons, husbands and wives, a couple of buddies, or business associates. Wiesenberg told me he has seen a significant increase in the number of all-female charters. One thing became clear: It is easier and more economical for recreational anglers to let the charter fishing captains take on all the expense, risk and work of fishing rather than buying and maintaining your own boat.

    Both captains agree that it is extremely difficult for charter fishermen to survive in Connecticut, and most find it necessary to have another job - which others might characterize as their "real" job, but doesn't feed their addiction.

    Captain Moon works at his family's business, Moon Cutters in Hamden, and is able to arrange his schedule around his fishing charters during the season, and then make up the time during the winter.

    Captain James worked for years as a contract engineer and arranged his visits to clients like Boeing and Sikorsky around regional fishing seasons. He is now trying to make a living by diversifying into ecotours and mountain biking excursions.

    Wiesenberg uses his MBA skills to create a business model he hopes will keep him afloat. He downsized his boat to a 24-footer, which saves on gas, allows him to trailer his boat instead of paying for a berth at a marina, and provides the flexibility to travel to other areas for better fishing. He is installing underwater cameras to enable clients to see their fish as they are being caught, began merchandising videos of his trips and T-shirts or mugs with passengers' photos, and is working on a sophisticated, interactive Web site with photos of past trips and links to other fishing sites.

    Neither can imagine a world without fishing and will rearrange their entire lives just to be out on their boat. Despite all the hurdles to fishing, says Wiesenberg, "Nothing beats the celebration of a sunrise and the farewell to the day with a sunset on the water."

    Moon loves every minute on his boat, even the smell of fish and the tide, and when he wasn't coaching me, gazed pensively out at the calm water and said, "I love it out here. I would live on my boat if I could."

    Being the captain of his own boat is a dream he nurtured since he was a little kid. Three years ago, he finally made it come true, and some day, when he retires, he hopes to do it full-time, most likely in Florida. That will be his pot of gold.
    "NO CACHE" 2002 Carolina Skiff 238 Semi-V w/Mercury 125 HP

  3. #3
    Thanks for the post, I only wished it wasnt such an early trip. This Woman did her homework with the DEP, Coast guard, and with Dee's Bait.

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