I had a productive week in DC the week of 2-24 thru 27-20. The NOPC, which we are a member and I serve as Chairman, had a membership meeting on Wed afternoon. We discussed several issues regarding the current policies under the new Trump Ocean Policy where the staff of the NOPC is very active in pretty much every meeting throughout the country regarding the various regional ocean partnerships and ensuring stakeholders maintain a presence. They are also now beginning to work with the UN Convention of Global Biodiversity. The UN group is proposing to protect 30% of the worlds’ oceans and lands by 2030 with at least 10% under “strict protection” and to increase by at least 50% the worlds’ oceans and land that is under “comprehensive spatial planning addressing land/sea use change.” If this continues the U.S. could propose such efforts off our coasts. More will be provided on this effort later.
The NOPC met with the CEQ, Mary Neumayr, last December and I was able to provide much info on marine Mammal interactions with fishermen on all coasts. The NOPC will soon be sending her letter providing comments regarding ways to improve the NEPA process. They provide recommendations to improve and streamline the MMPA application process. The letter also includes info on requesting the NMFS to allow fishermen to use mechanisms to decrease the interactions with marine mammals. A copy of the letter will be provided at a later date.
I met with the Senate Commerce Committee staff to discuss the USCG proposed legislation that adversely impacts all for hire charter vessels and where it is after all our previous calls and emails. All of the passenger vessel assns have provided our recommendations to the Committee Staff which have minimum impacts and will eliminate the provisions that could cause vessels built prior to 1996 to be unable to comply. The bill and our recommendations are currently in limbo due to Sen Feinstein and her strict stand. Apparently Sen Cantwell’s staff is working to help. Vice president Butch Smith will be helping on this and will keep us informed of future actions. I was able to stress to the staff how our industry works to stay safe and provide safe operations as we stay on top of all issues affecting our industry and work with the other assns to keep the industry safe. I was able to meet with Sen Rubio’s, Sen Wicker’s, and Sen Cassidy’s staff as well as all of the Representative’s staffs that I’ve listed here on the importance of our recommendations being adopted. I have requested that all of the passenger vessel assns have a confer call asap to discuss next actions and I hope that happens soon and will keep all informed.
I also met with the staff of Representative Crist who has drafted legislation that would require all uninspected passenger vessels (UPVS), 6 packs and guides, to perform all the safety drills and keep vessel logs for their vessels just like those who have a USCG Certified Vessel. After discussions with many upv and guide vessel owners this is considered excessive and also the fact that a lot of them are very seasonal only operating 6 months or so a year, they do not support such a requirement. I was able to convince the staff that the current proposed legislation by Feinstein that we are working on would address most of Representative Crist’s concerns and his legislation may not be needed so to let the current issue play out. I told him there is no support for what Representative Crist has proposed. He agreed, so the Crist legislation is off the table for now. This is a big win on behalf of the upv fleet.
I met with Jordan Evich in Rep Herrera-Beutlers’ office, Kayla Rillo in Rep Youngs’ office, James Zorn in Rep Crist’s (FL) office, Hanna Strub in Rep Byrnes’ office, Chris Griswold, Connor Tomlinson in Sen Rubios’ office, Neal McMillin, Jake Rendon, Kat Montgomery in Sen Wickers’ office, Blake Schindler in Sen Cassidys’ office, Bill Ball, House Minority staff, Kyle Hill, Chelsea Sheehy in Sen Rick Scotts’ office, Darien Flowers, Andrew Pate, Charles Hockenbury Senate Commerce Committee staff, Michael DeFilippis in Rep Cheneys’ office, and had dinner with Dave Whaley, the former House Resource Committee head staffer who now is a consultant for the Fishery Councils Coordinating Committee.
I discussed the fishery failure disaster legislation with everyone and stressed we needed the provision in the Huffman bill that prevents conservation measures that adversely affect fishermen removed as the Senate version allowed such to be considered a fishery disaster and fishermen, processors and all affected should receive compensation. Evich said he would talk to Huffman’s staff, and all the rest said they understood the issue and would try to help. Bill Ball said they have stressed that the minority will have a hard time supporting the Huffman bill with the current provision included. I was able to meet with Michael DeFlippis who worked for Rep Southerlands’ and Youngs’ offices. He now is the legislative assistant to Rep Liz Cheney who also serves on the House Resources Committee. He said he would also reach out to Huffman’s staff. He was a good friend when he worked for Southerland and Young and should be again in Cheneys’ office.
The descending device bill is currently in limbo so hopefully it will not come up again soon. I am working to stay on top of that. I also talked about the new NMFS recreational mail fishing effort survey (FES) that is causing much concern among the east coast states, FL, and AL. On behalf of NACO I made a request to have a workshop on the new program. That request was granted and there will be a 2 day workshop in Tampa on 4-14,15 where all NMFS science and tech folks and others will try to explain the new system and why the effort numbers are so high and how allocations will be affected. A report from that workshop will follow.
I also discussed the marine mammal and shark predation issues we are having to provide the legislators a heads up. I had positive responses from all I spoke to. This was a very productive week with all responses very positive.
NACO continues our efforts to represent the for hire charter industry and keep regulatory burdens and costs at a minimum. No other for hire charter association provides this type of service on a national level.
We appreciate all our members’ continued support and encourage you to let others in our industry around you know of what we do and suggest they join with us.
Capt Bob Zales, II
CANCELLATION AND CORONA
When or if the corona virus manifests itself in the US, it’s going to affect tourism businesses including charter fishing. Already, some college sports teams are suspending schedules; I’m getting announcements of major fishing tackle companies backing out of attendance at the Bassmaster’s Classic. What’s going to happen when you start getting calls from customers to cancel reservations they’ve made to go fishing?
If you don’t require any sort of deposit, there’s nothing you will be able to do other than slam down the phone. If you do take deposits, make sure to be up front with your cancellation policy and your customer is aware of it when they make the reservation.
By up front, the least would be to have it posted on your website, brochure or other outlet people use to find your charter service. By aware, I mean, make sure customers who make reservations are specifically advised of your policy.
Some operators require a cash or check deposits, which works, but some potential clients are put off by this method and it requires enough time for the postal service to do it’s work. A captain needing to issue a refund of a deposit, has to write a check.
I’ve written before about getting a credit card merchant account to accept deposits and/or payments, if for no other reason than that’s the way business is conducted in the 21st century. It’s simpler now than when I started, and less expensive. Payscape is affiliated with NACO and offers CC merchant accounts to members. Other options are PayPal, Square and some banks now have competitive systems.
What you need to put in your policy is the timeline. Obviously, if a customer calls six months in advance and puts down a deposit, then calls back a day later and says they need to cancel, give back the deposit in full. No harm, no foul. If a customer leaves you waiting at the dock, that’s completely different.
But what’s in between these extremes? That’s for you to determine and will vary according to your location. Guides in remote areas don’t get many last minute calls. Charter operators in popular tourist areas might be able to rebook just about any cancellation with only a day or two notice.
I personally operate like most hotels. I require a card number to hold a reservation, but the card is not charged unless a cancellation contingency occurs. On the day of the trip, the customers can opt to pay with cash or card and if they pay by card, the tip or any other fees can be included.
Doing it this way allows me to adopt a more equitable policy. For my service, cancellations made more than seven days in advance have no penalty. I just shred the credit card information. For cancellations seven days or less before the scheduled trip, I process the card on file for $100. If I’m left standing on the dock I charge half the charter fee. (Luckily, that’s only happened three times in 22 years.)
The important thing, in light of the virus threat or just as a good business policy, is to set a policy and make it known to your customers. My policy is shown on my website so potential customers know in advance there is a policy and what it is when they are shopping. Then, either by mail, email or text, each customer who makes a reservation is sent a reservation confirmation with pertinent information and the detailed confirmation policy.
Let’s all hope the corona virus turns out to be insignificant. No one knows. I do know, customers will appreciate knowing they have options when planning fishing or boating trips amidst the uncertainty.
Capt. Mike Schoonveld - NACO Board Member