Gulf Coast eyes tourism boost

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 23, 2010

ORANGE BEACH, (AP) — The Gulf Coast’s tourism industry is betting on red snapper to survive the winter.

In an unusual move, the federal government is allowing fall fishing of the popular schooling snapper, a favorite for anglers who missed nearly an entire summer of saltwater fishing because of the BP oil spill.

Enthusiasts typically flock to the Gulf to catch red snapper during the summer, and the fish is off limits later in the year. But the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Tuesday it was allowing snapper fishing over eight three-day weekends beginning Oct. 1.

In coastal areas hardest-hit by the oil, the special season is more about tourism dollars than seafood.

Tackle shops, restaurants, hotels and stores that suffered steep declines in revenue because of the Gulf of Mexico gusher are hoping for a big boost headed into what is historically the slowest season of the year.

“It’s not going to save the summer, but it’s certainly going to help put cash in the drawers and get people through the winter,” said Mike Foster, a spokesman for the Alabama Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Danny Pitalo’s small tackle shop in Biloxi, Miss., depends heavily on coastal visitors for business, and he said the fall snapper season could help keep him going.