The Bright Side: Serious comedy

Last episode was refreshing to research and to write. It was refreshing because it was about some of the good stuff happening with local people in these oh so odd times. If you are looking for an uplifting piece this week, you may want to watch Tik Tok, pick up “Readers Digest,” an Archie comic book or maybe even an old issue of Harry Lyon’s “Kona Coast” magazine. Reason being; the news of late is anything but uplifting.

July is known to be one of the biggest months of the year for ocean sports and tourism, in terms of economic impact. On Thursday, the Governor announced that the visitor quarantine will be extended into July, but neither he, nor any of his administration has stated clearly, why.

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In fact, his head of the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism appeared in a Senate hearing recently and refused to testify, accusing the Senate of harassment. According to Honolulu Civil Beat, when asked why he would not cooperate, he replied, “Yes means nothing if you can’t say no.” Meanwhile, the economy crumbles away.

Mark Twain couldn’t make this stuff up. The best he came up with was mild astonishment at what he called “the coconut heads in the kanaka legislature.”

Where is Harry Lyon’s when you really need him? Like now. Up in heaven, probably looking down, shaking his head and saying, “See? I told you so! That’s why I moved to Kona from Honolulu!”

Unfortunately, living in Kona will not save us from the hijinks of Honolulu. Nor are we in Kona immune from the effects of what is becoming a dire situation for all of the visitor industry, not just ocean sports.

Fishing has seasonal peaks. Spring months are usually not the busiest, but July and August sure are. Summer is when a disproportionate amount of revenue is generated in charter fishing.

Summer is when the largest quantity of fish are in the Kona eddy, and summer is also tournament season. From mid-June through late August, there is a tournament scheduled on every weekended.

On July 4, the local tournaments overlap with a world wide event, known as the Blue Marlin World Cup. The World Cup generates huge cash prizes, payable “winner take all” to the team catching the largest blue marlin anywhere on Earth, on July 4. Kona boats have won the World Cup ten times, two more times than the nearest competitive destination — Bermuda.

The World Cup was last won in Kona in 2018, and the total purse was over $1 million dollars. Combine that with the rest of the Kona tournaments in July and August and total purse is over $3 million dollars. Add to that charter fees, rental cars, hotel rooms, meals, shopping and a partridge in a pear tree and you have serious local economic impact generated by one mild mannered sport — fishing.

In fact, the Hawaii Marlin Tournament Series in 2019 was second only to the PGA in terms of purse in a Hawaii sports property, with more than $2 million, all on its own. With the quarantine now extended into July, that will be severely impacted, to say the least.

Unlike the PGA however, contestants in the HMT Series are regular people, not elite golf pro’s. Sure, many Kona charter boats are crewed by some of the top professional fisherman in the world, but anglers come from all around the world to fish Kona tournaments, with a wide range of skill sets. For some, a tournament may be more like a “Pro Am” tourney, but here, a lot of local people compete with friends.

More importantly, in the PGA, pros take their loot, hop a plane and carry it on back to Poughkeepsie or where ever it is they live. None of those millions stay in Hawaii.

In the HMT Series, much of the winnings stay here in Hawaii. In fact, the locals crewing the boats take home at least thirty percent, themselves — plus tips. So yeah, July and August are important to Hawaii fishermen.

The quarantine is just one element in what has become a complex web. Even if not lifted by July 4th, the tournaments can go on, catering to local fishers, provided they get operating permits back.

Seems like every time I report on the topic of COVID-19 and the strange regulations that have arisen from the State’s efforts to mitigate the spread, what I write is obsolete by the time the column is printed. Almost every week, the State has made up some new regulation that changed the one I wrote about. But I’ve learned! This week, I have those potential regulations in my sights.

Mayor Kim recently asked the Governor to approve a list of activities for reopening, and he did. On the list under Outdoor Spaces are “Ocean Tours.” I have asked the Governor’s office for clarification, and to define “Ocean Tours” more specifically, asking if that meant charter boats were going to get their operating permits back.

The County does not have jurisdiction over charter boat permits, be they fishing, snorkel, dive, manta or even whale watching. The state does. So at first swipe, this ruling reads like the old Abbot and Costello routine, “Who’s on First?” and it might be as equally funny, if it weren’t so dang serious.

Then there is the question of whether the tournament are included in “Ocean Tours.” For some, like the HIBT, it won’t matter because they have already canceled for 2020. The Hawaii Big Game Fishing Club’s Rock n Reel tourney is indefinitely postponed, as is the Wee Guys, which fields the most boats of them all. Likewise, Capt. Marlin Parker is trying to decide to run his Marlin Magic Lure Tournament — or not.

The HMT Series has shifted tournament schedules around, evacuated June and moved more locally oriented tournaments into July as defense against the quarantine. The “biggies” are now scheduled for August. The Governor’s office has been working with organizers to try and assess if they need an exemption to run as scheduled, because like the charter boats, tournament operating permits are now suspended.

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This week it would actually be a welcome development if this content becomes obsolete by Monday, and some clarity is received on what exactly “Ocean Tours” are “allowed.”

Of course fisheries are not the only industry affected by COVID-19, and no one could have ever made all this up. Not even Twain. Let’s hope we are all laughing in the end as if it were just one big comedy, because going in to July, it really is, pretty dang serious.

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