No relief for freshwater charters and guides


Watching the TV talking heads, listening to the talk radio pundits and reading news accounts about which sectors of the economy was and is suffering the most from the economic affects of the corona virus reminds me of my favorite scene from the movie, Jaws. In the scene, the sheriff, the salty old fisherman and the know-it-all biologist sat around the table showing off their “battle scars,” each one topping the others.

Which industry or business group was hit the worst?  Airlines say they were devastated, restaurant owners and workers were hit nearly as bad or worse. I could go on listing barber shops, gym owners, small resorts and hotels, especially in popular tourist areas and dozens of other types of businesses.

It was understandable when the federal government hurriedly threw together the CARES act, which doled out $1,200 to many private citizens, provided “forgiveness loans” (government-speak for free money) to large small businesses and forwarded billions to certain businesses, that it would over-indulge some groups and overlook others.

One group, largely overlooked, was America’s fishing guides and charter boat operators. Though a few operations have multiple boats and perhaps salaried employees, most fishing guides are sole proprietors, often with only family members working the docks or decks. If they do have “employees” such as a mate or deck hand, these positions are not full time and often just work for tips. As such, they weren’t eligible for the “free money” stimulus.

Neither are any of these captains, guides or deck hands eligible to claim unemployment payouts from the states. Unemployment insurance premiums are collected from employers to pay their employees. Self-employed people don’t pay in, so when the COVID-19 rules shut down their businesses, fishing guides were left sitting on the dock, empty handed.

Here in Michigan, most charter captains and fishing guides pay their licensing fees to the DNR, pay for their boat inspections, pay their dock fees and insurance, and incur all their other expenses at the beginning of the year so when the “season” opens in the spring, they are ready to fish. When the fishing starts, the first few month’s income just goes to cover their expenses. This year, the season began at about the same time the virus-related orders to stay home and close down were issued. Even now, when restrictions are beginning to ease, few customers are calling.

At the beginning of the pandemic the National Association of Charterboat Operators worked to get charter boat operators included in the relief efforts. Recently, at least for America’s coastal guides and fishermen in salt water, $300 million from the CARES act has been released to apportion to these businesses. Good for NACO!

However, as soon as that announcement was made, NACO realized it had left out freshwater guides and charter captains who  annually take millions of people fishing on America’s freshwater lakes and rivers.

NACO directors immediately contacted all of the Great Lake state’s senators and representatives to make them aware of this omission. Michigan’s Senator Gary Peters is now working with other congressmen and groups to see if any money can be found in the CARES appropriations, or included in future legislation, to offer relief to fishing charters and guides to keep them “afloat” until the new “norm” is established across the country.

Unfortunately, for many operators, it’s already too late.

Categories: Blog Content, Michigan – Mike Schoonveld

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