Blame it on high gas prices, rainy weather and/or the economy. Whatever the reasons, a number of Coast businesses involved in marine recreation have found it a lackluster season thus far.
How are sales thus far for powerboats used to cruise coastal waters?
“Horrible, horrible, bad and horrible,” says Gina Nadeau, owner of Competition Marine of Mississippi in Gulfport. “Normally our season will start in early April, and we’re just wide open until after the Fourth of July. We will get two, three or four weeks behind schedule with service work. This year we never got behind schedule. We didn’t have the rush we normally see. I would say, in all honesty, we’re off probably service-wise a good 50% from what we normally do. Sales compared to last year are off about 40%.”
Nadeau believes that declining demand for sales and service has a lot to do with the less-than-stellar economy and the high cost of fuel. And sales of personal watercraft are down in part because of laws that ban their use at the barrier islands of Gulf Islands National Seashore.
The war also doesn’t help. Nadeau said having so many spouses gone from their families has a big impact.
Gas prices have also been a disincentive to cruising Coastal waters. A traditional 25-foot offshore boat can use 50 gallons of fuel running from Gulfport Harbor to Ship Island and back.
“The comment you often hear is, ‘With the price of fuel, I can’t afford to run it’,” Nadeau said. “High gas prices definitely limit the amount of use we are going to see in the marine industry. And the weather hasn’t helped us at all. We didn’t really have a spring. I don’t think we have had a really true summer. Yes, it finally got hot. But we are getting so much rain everyday, it hasn’t helped us.”
With the Fourth of July come and gone, and school starting in early August, Nadeau said the season is shot. If people haven’t purchased a boat by now, they probably aren’t going to do it this season.
Traditionally, Competition Marine does a brisk business in service and repair. But that has also been way off this year.
Danny Senseney, owner, D & S Marine in Moss Point, reports a similar experience.
“Business is not as good this year,” Senseney said. “It is all right. But it isn’t what it has been. It has been so good for the past two years, and this year it is definitely down. People just don’t have as much money. There are just as many boats, but people don’t have the money to pay to fix them right now.”
Senseney charges $30 to evaluate a motor and provide a price estimate for repairs. He says he has done more inspections this summer than ever before.
“But then they don’t want it fixed,” he said. “It just goes back home with them. It is definitely the economy. People are losing their jobs. There are more people who have boats. But the older stuff, people are just not fixing it. Now I am mainly working on newer stuff.”
A Coast boat dealership that doesn’t report a downturn is Ocean Marine in Ocean Springs and Gulfport. General manager Jerry Adkerson said sales are up over 2003.
“We have seen a good strong year,” Adkerson said. “We sell mainly new boats. We sell a wide range of models across the board, small to offshore cruisers. I couldn’t say one segment is better than others. All parts of the markets seem to be strong in spite of gas prices. We really haven’t seen a downturn. I think a lot of it is that in spite of what you see in the newspaper, the economy is pretty good. Interest rates are lower than ever and that has a lot to do with it. We do a lot of financing because the rates are so good.”
But Roy Glenn, owner of Glenn’s Auto and Marine Repair in Pascagoula, reports that his business is down both in marine and auto repairs. He attributes the decrease in business to high gas prices and an uncertain economy.
“Business on the marine side is way off what it has been in the past few years,” Glenn said. “It picked up last year, but this year it has been absolutely terrible. It has definitely hurt business. The auto business is way off, too. That and all the taxes the government puts on everyone these days has hurt a lot of people. Then they also go up on water and sewer. It is a never-ending battle here.”
Glenn said people aren’t just forgoing repairs to their recreational boats. Many are also putting off car repairs.
Glenn said while the shipyard has been going strong, a number of contractors have been laid off at the ChevronTexaco Refinery. But he isn’t quite sure why the local economy isn’t doing any better.
Sport fishing has a large economic impact in Mississippi, with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimating a direct impact of approximately $300 million per year. Trip expenditures average about $28.5 million, with equipment purchases estimated at $274 million. The biggest ticket expenditure is for powerboats, with an estimated $158 million in annual sales.
Fees for charter boat fishing as estimated at approximately $3 million with more than half of that figure coming from out-of-state residents. Charter fishing operations have also taken a hit this year from the excessive rain in June.
“It’s been slow,” said Captain Jay Trochesset, Silver Dollar II Charter Boat, Biloxi. “This is my 31st year. The economy has hurt us, and I think the war in Iraq has hurt us, as well. This is one of the slowest of years I’ve seen. If I’m not running much, the rest of them aren’t running.”
Trochesset said local people tell him rain is hurting business. But while it has been raining an awful lot, he said the fish don’t know it is raining. But potential customers who don’t know better are put off by a forecast of rain.
Greg Hebert, captain/owner of Amberjack Charters, Biloxi, said weather has had an impact. Back in March and April before the rains started, there was good activity.
“Then it slowed down drastically,” Hebert said. “Now with the weather improving, when the sun shines, people move around. We are getting them out there fishing. They are having a good time, and catching a lot of fish. So, hopefully they will come back. We feel like business is pretty good right now. It could always be better.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at email@example.com.