Oil Spill Causing Economy-Driving Fishing Tournaments to Shut Down

From this story in the New York Times:
Shawna Meisner, the director of the Emerald Coast Blue Marlin Classic offshore sports fishing tournament in the Gulf of Mexico, had been one of the last holdouts. But on Thursday -- five days before the tournament's start -- the spreading BP oil spill left her little choice. Meisner canceled the event, a team fishing competition in Destin, Fla. _It is ranked by Marlin magazine as having the Gulf's richest purse, reaching a peak of $1.5 million in 2008. In the wake of the oil spill, many of the top fishing events in the Gulf have been postponed or canceled. Those in recreational fishing regard the sport as a key part of the region's economy. Industry-financed studies estimate that the annual number of day trips on boats to fish in the gulf is 23.5 million, in addition to millions fishing from the shoreline.

Although a small percentage of boating anglers compete in offshore tournaments, they are among the biggest spenders. Each team pays $5,000 to enter the two-day Emerald Coast competition, and the fees can reach more than $50,000 depending on the categories it competes in. About half a dozen other key tournaments in June and July had been canceled, but Meisner and her tournament committee persisted. In May, they issued a statement that they were "proceeding with optimism." But some teams pulled out, anyway. About 20 remained last week, down from the more than 70 that typically compete. That decline was not the reason for the cancellation, Meisner said. The breaking point, she said, was when oil spread into the waters off the Florida Panhandle last week, leading to intermittent closures of a waterway that leads to deeper water. The federal authorities also widened the area closed to fishing.

"The long-reaching effect of canceling these events is devastating," said Jim Simons, the president of the World Billfish Series, a major championship in the rapidly growing sport_