HOLLAND, Mich. (WOOD) — Summer-like weather is here and now that things have started reopening across the state, economists are left to wonder just how much of an impact the COVID-19 pandemic had on the state’s tourism industry.
One of the businesses arguably hit hardest by the closures, charter fishing, whose economic impact can surpass $25 million in a good year.
Charter fishing operators have their fingers crossed for a good one as they were allowed to hit the water once again just over a month ago on May 7.
Climb aboard Powderhorn Sportfishing Charter’s Reel Ginger docked at Yacht Basin Marina along Ottawa Beach Road in Holland and you’ll see some noticeable differences you wouldn’t have last year.
“Customer safety and the safety of our crew is the number one priority,” captain Tim Becker said. “We have masks, we have gloves, we have hand sanitizer and disinfectant spray; we do everything humanly possible that we know of to make sure that there are no issues on the boat.”
Becker explains some of the safety changes, coupled with warm weather, may have led to one of the busiest months his charter has had in recent memory.
“We’ve been running one or two trips a day seven days a week. The fishing has been some of the best we’ve seen all year, or well really in the last few years. We have been exceptionally busy,” Becker said. “But it was tough to start, a lot of people didn’t want to go. That lasted only about a week, really tough being able to book until people realize that we you know we do everything we can to keep our customers safe.”
The decision to wear masks, gloves and socially distance, Becker explains, really is up to the customers personal preference. Exactly how far the captain and crew take the extended safety measures relies on the customer.
“We’ll do whatever it takes,” Becker said. “We have everything available to the customer if they want us to mask up, to wear gloves to disinfect the rods and reels, we can do that, but it’s up to them really.”
Some charter fisherman haven’t been so lucky, purchasing the needed PPE for every customer can be an added expense, the income lost, Becker, who also owns Powderhorn Guns & Archery in Holland, estimates may be too much for some fisherman to recover from who don’t have a fall back business.
“We might see some fisherman decide in the next month or two that hey we can’t keep going and I’m worried about that,” Becker said. “The time we lost, we can never get back. We did cancel I would say between late March and May 7 probably 25 to 30 charters so that’s a big chunk of change that we won’t be able to get back anytime soon.”
Along with PPE, routine disinfecting cleanings, social distancing on board and deck washings; Becker took a larger, more drastic step to ensure the safety of his family and crew were kept safe.
“The beard, the beard was a biggest part of my business. I had a huge red beard. I was known for that beard,” Becker said. “I tell you what, if you’ve never googled what bacteria and stuff stays in your beard and you have a beard, don’t Google it.”
Becker’s young daughter has a health condition which experts say made her more vulnerable to COVID-19. Becker, who says he comes into contact with many people every day between the gun shop and charter business, didn’t want to take any chances and shaved it off.
“The beard was a great marketing tool. This huge red beard I had was really kind of my, my staple, everybody knew me as the big red ginger,” Becker said. “That’s how customers would find me, but I’m not willing to jeopardize their health for me to have a beard and be able to smile but now that things are getting better. We’ll start growing it back, you know, a little bit.”
What the future holds for his business is still a growing discussion.
“We would love to see you on the boat, and we would love to see you be able to get out there and have fun and kind of forget about the issues in everyday life for a few minutes out there and I think that’s what we see a lot of,” Becker said.” Whatever you need to feel safer, we can accommodate and will do so.”