COVID-19 deals blow the charter fishing, support businesses

Published: Jun. 5, 2020 at 3:16 PM AKDT
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Seward is quieter on the weekdays than it usually is this time of year.

With no cruise ships and seemingly no other tourists, the seagulls are sometimes things making noise at the small boat harbor.

"Needless to say, everyone's a little down. In revenue. Sometimes in spirits," said Elle Zernia, one of the owners of Captain Jack's Seafood Locker and some fishing charter businesses in Seward.

At Captain Jack's, Zernia sells bait to the charter captains and processes the fish their clients catch.

"On a busy day in the summer we would typically go through 75 cases of herring, which are 25 pounds each," Zernia said. "We're going four cases a day, five cases a day right now... Because everybody's going light for one, and then so few boats are going. So even the boats that are going are not needing as much bait as they would normally have because they just have less people."

For Captain Levi Rangel, owner of Alaska Dream Charters, 2020 was poised to be his best season yet. The 2019 season was strong enough that he replaced the motors in one of his boats at the end of the season rather than waiting until Spring and prepaid all of the start-up costs for 2020.

"By the middle of March, we definitely knew everything would not be the same," Rangel said. "We have lost about 80 percent of our pre-bookings that we had, as of weeks ago. We haven't totaled it in a few weeks, but as of three or four weeks ago we had already refunded over $50,000 to customers."

Rangel says that at the time when he would have typically run at least 30 trips, he had taken only a handful.

The lack of tourist traffic has taken a massive portion out of the charter fishing industry and each supporting business, but both Zernia and Rangel say Alaskans have been helpful.

"We're so blessed to have locals, not just locals that have been calling to book but friends, Alaskan friends calling saying 'hey, we haven't gone on charters in years but we want to help you guys out. We want to make sure that you're going to be here next year, you're going to be in business," Rangel said.

Rangel and his wife

after trying to find a way to clean their boats according to CDC and state guidance. That second business has helped keep the couple busy in a time when fishing trips aren't booked.

Zernia's business also sells seafood commercially to consumers across the country, and she says that side Captain Jack's has helped support the business because many people have sought out seafood with concerns over the food supply chain.

"We need to somehow safely get everything going again," Zernia said. "Because yes, health and safety is super, super important, and so is eating and paying for your shelter and everything else."

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