Irma aftermath: Florida Keys boat captains fear they won't stay afloat if tourism sinks – USA TODAY
Hurricane Irma will hurt boat captains in the Florida Keys for months to come. USA TODAY
Some of the many sunken fishing boats at Postcard Inn Beach Resort & Marina in Islamorda, Fla. following hurricane Irma, Sep 14, 2017.(Photo: Jack Gruber, USA TODAY)
ISLAMORADA, Fla. — John Gargan took one look at the damage left by Hurricane Irma around Whale Harbor Marina and came to a simple conclusion.
“We’re out of business ’til Christmas,” said Gargan, 67, who captains a 22-foot charter fishing boat called Couple-A-Bucks from the marina on this island in the Florida Keys.
The island chain took a devastating hit from Irma, which made landfall on Cudjoe Key as a Category 4 with 130 mph winds. But residents throughout the Keys worry that the long-term economic impact will be even more painful than the short-term cleanup.
All those sunken and battered boats splashed across TV screens and newspaper front pages aren’t just high-end toys. They are the main source of income for owners, employees and crew members of charter fishing boats, dive shops, jet ski rentals, sunset tours and, of course, booze cruises.
More than half – about 54% – of the 77,000 people who live in Monroe County have jobs that depend on tourism, a $2.7 billion a year industry in the Keys, according to the county. And with the water serving as such a big lure for those tourists, losing so many boats will put a painful dent in that figure.
“That’s their livelihood,” said LeAnn Bruzewski, 52, a marina operator who was preparing to cook meals for her captains on Thursday. “These are all people who followed their dreams down here, and now …”
Captains who evacuated spent more