Coastal Alabama's charter fishing heritage has developed into a year-round attraction, and some big business in the tourism sector. However, the marine activity -- and customer bookings -- certainly begin to pick up in the spring and summer …
Coastal Alabama's charter fishing heritage has developed into a year-round attraction, and some big business in the tourism sector. However, the marine activity -- and customer bookings -- certainly begin to pick up in the spring and summer seasons. At the heart of the local charter industry is the Orange Beach Fishing Association (OBFA), representing the largest charter fishing fleet anywhere on the Gulf Coast.
The group marks the "start" of the spring season with release of its official annual Charter Fishing Directory, which just hit the streets in its print version. You can access a digital version of the full directory for 2013-2014 via the link found at the close of this article.
OBFA represents nearly a hundred fishing vessels, including in its membership some 75 charter boat owners and Captains, plus another 45 first mates and crew. The Association claims the Gulf waters off the Alabama coast "is home to the best bottom fishing in the world. You can troll near the shores for pelagic species or can enjoy the excitement of the annual spring cobia run."
The growth of the local charter fishing business is largely attributable to the emergence of an ever-expanding zone of submerged structure which provides habitat for marine life, known as the Alabama coastal reef zone. OBFA President Tom Steber expounds: "We believe in the importance of habitat to fish populations and it is crucial that we maintain sustainable fisheries. Therefore, for more than 50 years our Captains and supporters have developed the world's largest permitted "Artificial Reef Zone". These (more than) 17,000 reefs have become residence for many reef fish species and offer a world-class destination for bottom fishing trips."
Of course you can venture further offshore our coast to test your angling skills against world-class sportfishing quarry such as tuna, sailfish and marlin.
With what is now the largest artificial reef program in the U.S., Alabama's began in 1953 when OBFA asked marine authorities to begin the reef building by placing 250 car bodies off the coast of Baldwin County. The plan proved successful, and in the ensuing years all variety of additional materials have been placed off our shores: vehicle bodies of all types, bridge and culvert rubble, barges, airplanes, and all sort and sizes of vessels and boats.
In 1974-1975, a cooperative federal and state effort added the "ghost fleet" to the reef system, using numerous WWII-era liberty ships. They were sunk in five separate locations off Mobile and Baldwin Counties, in water depths of between 80 and 95 feet.
In 1987 the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a general permit to create specific areas off the Alabama coast for creation of artificial reefs, which encompassed nearly 800 square miles at the time.
The Reef Zone is now gaining additional national attention. The Alabama coastal reef zone is featured, along with Orange Beach's own Walter Marine company, in the newest reality show from The Weather Channel, "Reef Wranglers". Walter Marine is an important and longtime contributor to the regional reef-building-boom.
Along with the attraction of marine activity and fish species, the reefs are attracting customers to the coast who are willing to pay for the charter fishing experience. The industry is an important aspect of the new "eco-tourism" and "adventure travel" categories (nature vacation destinations) being lauded by tourism officials as the hot market of the gigantic worldwide travel industry.
According to Alabama Gulf Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau, 18% of surveyed visitors mention "Fishing" as an activity enjoyed during their stay. "Wildlife/Environment" was mentioned 23% and "Sightseeing" 41%. The percentage of visitors naming "Fishing" as the primary purpose of their visit doubled from 2009 to 2012, from 1.5% to 2.9%.
New additions to the area's adventure travel draw are coming this year. First is the eagerly-anticipated opening of Gulf Adventure Center's new zipline course, located in Gulf State Park. The park itself has always been the region's top eco-tourism asset, as the most-visited state park in Alabama. Also slated for this year is the sinking of the re-name offshore freighter "The LuLu", which will become an additional artificial reef specific to the scuba and dive industry.
All the eco-tourism excitement along the Gulf Coast always comes right back to nature, according to OBFA President Steber: "Our captains are stewards of the waters that are home to diverse fisheries and offer spectacular opportunities to enjoy our natural resources . . . let our waters entertain you, join us on the Alabama Gulf Coast."