Ready to be fishing
Fisherman makes BP claim, lures until Gulf ...
By the numbers
Claims filed and paid as of Aug. 5
All of Florida: 48,209; $55.8 million
Okaloosa (Panhandle): 10,244; $13.4 million
Collier: 684; $588,509
Lee: 970; $271,193
Monroe: 1,104; $850,000
Pinellas: 2,009 $1.1 million
Hillsborough: 765; $560,000
Miami-Dade: 361; $28,238
NAPLES — Several Southwest Florida fishermen are reeling in some financial relief after filing claims with BP.
Some fishermen are reporting more success with their claims than others and the reasons can be as murky as whether it was the bait or the fishing style that led to a big catch for one and not another.
Commercial fisherman John “Hollywood” Brown of Everglades City is usually fishing for king mackerel in Louisiana this time of year.
He filed a claim in late May and was happily surprised that a visit to the BP claims office in East Naples led to an “advance.”
“We don’t have a whole lot of money in the bank,” Brown said.
He makes the bulk of his income from July through December.
“I told the guys in the office that I need to know what’s going on so my wife knows how to budget,” Brown recalled.
He left the office with a $5,000 check in June — well before his usual July 1 departure for mackerel fishing.
“So far, BP has been pretty good to me,” he said.
Since late June, Brown has received three payments, including two checks in the amount of $5,000. He declined to share the total.
The federal waters where he would normally be fishing remain closed.
In the meantime, Brown said he’s just working on his boat.
“I’ve fished all my life ... I’d rather be fishing right now,” the 61-year-old said.
He attributes his success with his claim in-part to his wife, Gwen, who kept all the paperwork in order, including taxes and trip tickets of the fish he caught and sold over the past six years in Louisiana.
Although the state waters of Louisiana, which are within three miles of the shore, are open to fishing, the federal waters about six miles out aren’t yet open.
Brown said he feels for the shrimpers and oystermen because, although much of their waters reopened, the bottom-feeder species were hurt the most.
“They can’t move out of the way,” he said, particularly of the oysters.
Tom Wiley, manager of the BP claims office in East Naples, said it can be easier to expedite the claims made by fishermen who earned money in the northern waters where the oil actually is.
More than 50 percent of the approximately 550 claims handled by his office came from fishermen, Wiley said.
Those claims were primarily made by people from anywhere between Marco Island and North Fort Myers, although some came from much farther away prior to the claims office in Clearwater opening, he said.
There are several factors, including distance from the spill, that can have a claim put on hold, Wiley said.
Lack of documentation is the most common, he said.
Several of the claims from charter fishermen include cancellations or fewer reservations when compared with the previous two years. If the person filing the claim reports cancellations due to perception of oil affecting all Florida-area waters, then that needs to be documented as well, Wiley said.
“I’ve fished all my life ... I’d rather be fishing right now,” said John “Hollywood” Brown of Everglades City, who received claims checks from BP.
“The fishing industry has been devastated from the national perception of Southwest Florida wading through oil on our beaches,” said charter fisherman and TV personality John Bunch, who goes by Capt. GiddyUp. “The phone is not ringing and the e-mail in-box has only Viagra deals.”
BP claims representatives do call and check, he said.
Often cancellations come via e-mail explaining that the oil is the reason, Wiley said.
There is some leeway with documentation, but the more there is, the faster and more likely the person making the claim will get paid, he said.
That’s of little relief to charter fisherman and TV personality John Bunch, who goes by Capt. GiddyUp.
Bunch filed a claim in May, expected a check by July and said he still hasn’t received a cent.
“The fishing industry has been devastated from the national perception of Southwest Florida wading through oil on our beaches,” Bunch said.
“The phone is not ringing and the e-mail in-box has only Viagra deals,” he said.
It wasn’t immediately clear why Bunch, who requested at least $10,000 in losses to his charter business, remains unpaid.
Individual claims can’t be discussed, BP officials said.
After opening the East Naples office in June, Wiley said representatives have only seen about 12 claims that appeared bogus and those people chose rather quickly to withdraw their claims. Others may lack documentation as their claims sit unfilled, he said.
Although BP reported that the oil gushing from the pipes following the April 20 Deepwater Horizon explosion is now capped, it hasn’t slowed down new claims, Wiley said.
The office continues to handle about 20 claims each day and remains open every day of the week, including weekends. Weekends tend be slower, he said.
There were 684 claims filed by Collier County individuals and businesses as of Aug. 5 and nearly $600,000 paid, BP officials report.
The fishermen are among the worst hurt, said Wiley, who feels for their struggles.
“They don’t want to come here begging for anything ... not that that’s what they’re doing, but that’s how they often feel,” he said.
“It’s kind of like welfare. The more I make fishing the less I get from them,” he said.
The Chokoloskee native then laughed a little. It’s uncomfortable, he said. Then, he repeated: “I’d rather be fishing.”