Spill shuts down 78th annual fishing rodeo
Published: Thursday, September 23, 2010
Updated: Thursday, September 23, 2010 17:09
DAUPHIN ISLAND, Ala. — A remote stretch of land 14 miles long and about two miles wide that is home to about 1,300 permanent residents, is known for the Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo.
The rodeo started in 1929 and is considered the oldest and largest multispecies saltwater tournament in the country.
The rodeo generates income and scholarship opportunities for residents and brings in more than 75,000 spectators and 3,200 fishermen.
The 78-year-old tradition was canceled during the Great Depression and two years during World War II. This year, the rodeo was canceled because of the BP oil spill. The April 20 Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion killed 11 people, released more than 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico and closed many of Dauphin Island's beaches.
For days, the smell of oil permeated the island.
"Instead of people in beach towels, you saw people in hazmat clothes," said Appie Head, investor relations coordinator for Gulf Coast Exploreum Science Center. "You could hear the drones of their cars; it felt like I was in a ‘Star Wars' movie."
According to the rodeo Web page, the tournament each July raises scholarship money for the University Of South Alabama's department of marine science and funding to study 600 fish otoliths throughout the country so scientists can better understand Gulf fisheries.
The rodeo is also a chance to collect hundreds of specimens, saving both time and money compared to traditional collection methods.
Crystal Allen, 32, an employee of Ship and Shore, a convenience store that now sells oil cleanup equipment, said she was blown away to see the rodeo canceled.
She said, "It messed with a lot of business and left many of the islanders outraged."
Many islanders count on the dollars the tournament brings in.
A local Dauphin Island artist found a way to cash in. The Ship and Shore offers T-shirts for the "First Annual Offshore Tar Ball Rodeo."
The shirt showed commercial fishermen pulling in nothing but tar balls and fish covered in globs of oil. Bobbie Buerger, owner of Ship and Shore for 31 years, said more than 3,000 shirts have sold, the store's biggest seller.
Contracted BP workers especially appreciated the parody and bought them in bulk.
Even though most area businesses such as tourist shops and restaurants were forced to file claims against BP, Ship and Shore's business has soared.
Buerger said business got better when BP workers arrived. The store brought in revenue by selling cleaning equipment, food and beer.
She said she was glad the rodeo was closed because it attracted drunks to her store.
As BP leaves Dauphin Island, business has slowed down drastically.
Buerger said July Fourth weekend usually brings in thousands of dollars, but this year no one came to the beach.
Businesses on the island have to survive on their summer income.
Buerger said she is worried she is going to have to resort to filing a claim but is trying to hold off as long as possible.
This year, she is hoping that the "snow birds coming in the winter can bring business back."