The Gulf oil spill forces organizers to postpone indefinitely the Loop and Mike Alstott Foundation tournaments.
ANNA MARIA – Two Memorial Day weekend fishing tournaments based at Anna Maria’s Galati Yacht Sales have been indefinitely postponed due to oil from the Deepwater Horizon.
Organizers made the decision as oil, still gushing from the April 20 accident at the offshore rig, entered the Gulf of Mexico loop current, the fishing grounds for the tournaments.
NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service has closed 19 percent, 45,728 square miles, of federal Gulf waters to fishing because of spreading oil, the latest section on May 18.
“In anticipation of further closures, and in the best interest of anglers, we will look at a later date,” said Tom Verdensky, president of the Old Salt Fishing Foundation and coordinator of the Loop All Release Billfish Tournament and the Mike Alstott Family Foundation Inshore/Offshore Shootout. Old Salt stands for Operation Loop Development – Suncoast Angler’s Loop Tournament, which began 32 years ago as a partnership between scientists and fishermen investigating the loop current.
The economic impact of the four-day event to Anna Maria Island is significant, organizers say. The contest had attracted recreational fishermen from the Bahamas, Illinois, Texas, Jacksonville and Pensacola, where fishing closures also canceled contests, with an estimated 90 inshore boats and 60 offshore boats entered in the Alstott division and 40 boats entered in the Loop division, Verdensky said. Entry fees range from $55 per angler to $2,000 per boat.
“These guys spent months preparing and thousands of dollars to get here, then spent money to enter the event,” he said, adding that All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg would have benefited from the Alstott division proceeds.
A dozen of the boats are from Galati Yacht, the host marina for the event, which had also planned Loop Fest 2010, a free event featuring three days of live music, food, kids’ games and a personal appearance by former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Mike Alstott.
The company spent more than $100,000 on the event, which also was postponed, Chris Galati said, adding that families that were planning to rent motels on the beach for the holiday weekend may change their plans.
Last year’s Loop tournament winner, Danny Veid, and his party of eight anglers already have decided to cancel their reservations at Mainsail Beach Inn in Anna Maria.
“I do like the oil rigs; you catch fish around them,” said the Tarpon Springs resident, who normally fishes off Louisiana in the summer. “But this is our worst nightmare.”
The group plans to go fishing instead in the Bahamas, which is in the path of the loop current, but quite a distance from where the oil is located.
The loop current is the Gulf segment of a larger current that starts as the Yucatan Current, which comes from the Caribbean Sea into the Gulf through the Yucatan Strait, then heads down through the Florida Strait as the Florida Current, then up the Atlantic coast as the Gulf Stream. The current is not stationary, and last weekend began moving north, away from Florida.
The oil may never make it to Anna Maria Island, because the current and the continental shelf may keep it 100 miles offshore, Galati said, adding, “Anna Maria Island won’t be dealing with this like Miami will.”
Manatee County tourism officials emphasize that local beaches are unaffected by the spill and are open for business.