Charters seek bigger cut of BP windfall

Charter boat captains in Terrebonne Parish say they want more of a say in how a $2.1 million tourism promotion windfall is used by local officials, maintaining that their businesses are the backbone of local tourism.

Parish President Michel Claudet and other officials say they have already worked closely with the charter boat operations, noting that the distribution of promotion money has been carefully budgeted.

“I feel they are doing what they think is proper,” said charter captain Gerald Ellender, while noting that he would like to see more advertisements and programs directly targeting his clientele. “We don’t have the drawing power that New Orleans does.”

But Terrebonne’s ace in the hole, Ellender and other captains maintain, is the draw to anglers from Baton Rouge, Texas and other nearby locales.

Terrebonne is already branding itself the “Saltwater Capital of the World” and advertisements have been placed in national magazines geared toward saltwater fishing enthusiasts.

The money was gifted by BP due to its 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which reduced the charter industry to a shambles as anglers canceled reservations due to closed waters as the cleanup continued.

“The marketing promotions were almost all ‘Saltwater Fishing’ ads or shows or sponsorships,” said Pat Gordon, director of planning and zoning for Terrebonne Parish.

A charter fishing Web page has drawn more than 1,000 unique visitors so far, according to a presentation Gordon prepared. Banner ads appearing in special publications for the University of Mississippi, Mississippi State University, University of Arkansas, Auburn University and the University of Alabama have also been employed to draw more tourists.

The former “Downtown on the Bayou” festival in Houma, now dubbed “Best of the Bayou,” was paid for in part by the tourism money. The parish’s new brand and logo have also been developed through the program. Wayfaring signage designed to help people find out where they are going when traveling locally is also in the mix.

The $2.1 million was distributed to Louisiana parishes through a program developed by BP. The office of Lt. Governor Jay Dardene has approved each parish’s spending plan to make sure it is in keeping with a memorandum of understanding with BP. The dollars are not part of the state treasury but are considered privately held by a non-profit that aided in the distribution, the Community Foundation of Acadiana.

The memorandum does not specify that the money be used solely for eco-tourism, but does require that it be used for tourism purposes.

Jacques Berry, Dardenne’s spokesman, said his boss has overseen all of the budgets for coastal parishes receiving money from the program.

“The lieutenant governor himself authorizes them to write the checks,” Berry said.

Joey Palmisano, owner of Cocodrie Fishing Charters, said he is looking forward to see how the promotion programs affect his customer base when the weather gets warmer.

“It’s really too early to tell,” said Palmisano, who would like to see parish officials sit down with charter owners to further discuss how programs are run.