Business Leaders Seek To Exploit Virtues Of Fishing

OCEAN CITY – For decades, it has been widely known the vast fishing industry in and around the resort is a major contributor to the local economy, and while its exact impact is not known, resort business leaders are beginning to recognize its value to Ocean City.

Ever since the storm of 1933 cut the now-famous inlet between Ocean City and Assateague Island, creating easy access to the abundant waters off the coast, fishing has become synonymous with the resort. In the decades since, a vast network of marinas, docks, piers and fishing-related businesses have sprouted up along the bayside, creating another piston in the economic engine that drives Ocean City.

While most understand the importance of fishing to Ocean City, not many recognize its true economic impact on the resort. From offshore anglers targeting game fish to the father and son that buy some tackle, rent a boat and wet a line in the back bays behind the resort, fishing is big business in Ocean City and helps fill hotel rooms and restaurant tables and supports a wide variety of other businesses in the resort.

For years, the fishing industry has chugged along on a parallel but separate course from the rest of the tourism-related industries in town without much of a voice when it comes to policy, promotion and marketing. However, in recent months, resort business leaders have started to recognize the importance of the industry to the local economy and invited its representatives to the table.

For the second straight time, recent Ocean City Marlin Club President Bill Regan was invited to the town’s Economic Development Committee (EDC) monthly meeting to update community business leaders on what is going on with the fishing industry. On Wednesday, Regan told EDC members fishing is thriving and reached out to them to embrace the industry.

Regan pointed out the recent Seaside Boat Show drew 5,000 more attendees this year than last year and attracted its second-largest crowd ever. He also noted the growing number of fishing tournaments held in the resort practically all year long, which also contribute to filling hotel rooms and restaurant table.

“There are 22 fishing tournaments scheduled for this year, from the big offshore tournaments like the Tuna Tournament and the White Marlin Open to smaller inshore tournaments to surf fishing tournaments,” he told EDC members. “That presents a big opportunity for those of you in the hotel and motel and restaurant business. There are a lot of people coming in for weekends for these events.”

For years, the town of Ocean City and its business community have enjoyed a successful, if sometimes rocky, relationship with the golf industry, through partnerships and packaging plans, and rightly so. According to the recently updated comprehensive plan, golf generates over $100 million a year in direct and indirect spending in the resort area.

However, the comprehensive plan also acknowledges the huge impact of recreational fishing on the resort. According to the most recent data available, the week-long White Marlin Open, which is the premiere sportfishing tournament on the east coast, generates in excess of $20 million for the resort economy in direct and indirect spending for a single week in August.

The comprehensive plan also recognizes the importance of fishing all year long on a broad spectrum of resort businesses, stating, “a variety of businesses in Ocean City are heavily dependent on recreational bay and ocean fishing year-round, including boat builders, party and charter boat businesses, bait and tackle retailers, and several marinas.”

For those reasons and more, Regan suggested town leaders embrace fishing in much the same way they have embraced golf. He urged EDC members to consider partnering with the fishing industry in creative ways to maximize the economic impact and promote the resort as a major fishing destination.

“We’re looking into the fishing packaging business and other ways to promote the industry,” he said. “It’s something that hasn’t been done before to any large extent. Most of the charter guys do their own advertising and marketing, but there is no cohesive marketing campaign.”

EDC Chairman Dr. Lenny Berger agreed there were unexplored opportunities for the business community to partner with the fishing industry. He pointed out fishing was a comparatively untapped resource in terms of marketing and promoting all the resort has to offer.

“We are the White Marlin Capital of the World and we have that incredible tournament,” he said. “With 22 tournaments going on throughout the year, there is something happening almost every week.”

Berger said business leaders and the town’s marketing and promotion machine should reach out to fishing more to maximize the exposure.

“We have a treasure here and we would benefit by getting that message out,” he said. “It should be a very important part of our community and our economy.”