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Saturday, June 3, 2023

Gulf Coasters Fish for Opportunities in C.R.

Dean Blanchard’s shrimping company used to account for about 10 percent of the U.S. shrimp supply. Now, due to the oil spill at a British Petroleum (BP) oil well in the Gulf of Mexico, that number is down to zero. The Grand Isle, Louisiana-based Dean Blanchard Seafood company can no longer operate due to oil mucking up and polluting the places his boats used to trawl for shrimp, as well as fish such as mahimahi, tuna and snapper. Since the oil spill forced him to shut down operations, Blanchard estimated he’s lost about $50 million. And with no certainty as to the scope of the damage caused by the spill, his seafood company is searching for a new place to operate.

In August, Blanchard will be boarding a plane headed toward Costa Rica. He hopes that’s where he can start rebuilding his shrimping enterprise.

“I like it (in Louisiana),” Blanchard said. “(But) if I can’t live here, then I’ve got to find a place. I’ve got no choice.”

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill has displaced numerous businesses around the Gulf of Mexico. As the oil continues to blacken the gulf, some businesses believe

an escape from the mess could be in Costa


Last week, BP capped the leak, 88 days after the spill began. An estimated 95 to 185 million gallons of oil had spilled into the ocean since BP’s Deepwater Horizon exploded on April 20, killing 11 workers. Blanchard said he’s skeptical the new cap has fixed the leak for good, and he hasn’t heard any information from BP or the U.S. government on when it might be possible to fish the gulf waters again.

Blanchard’s seafood company and other businesses are considering relocation to Costa Rica, taking advantage of the country’s abundance of shorelines and sea life.

In addition, some Costa Rican businesses are targeting vacationers that used to frequent the shores of the Gulf of Mexico – and are asking them to take a dip in Costa Rica’s pristine waters.


Goin’ Fishing


Barry Chudwick, co-founder of the luxury vacation rental company Del Pacifico, based in the central Pacific coast town of Esterillos, said he’s talked to dozens of investors from the southeastern United States looking to buy lots or condos in the community. The potential investors are high-end clients interested primarily in sportfishing, or buying condos to rent to others with similar plans to go fish, Chudwick said.

He added that many of the clients who have made inquiries live in large southern cities like Atlanta, New Orleans or Memphis, but have a second home or a business on the coast. Now that the oil spill has damaged that option, the easily-accessible waters of Costa Rica are garnering interest.

“There will be long-term damage done to the (Gulf of Mexico) ecosystem, and sportfishing is a major driver in the high end luxury market,” Chudwick said. “And as we say, ‘big fish bring big boats, which bring big bucks.’”

Sam Merkin, who co-runs Quepos Sailfishing, said he’s noticed an increase in fishermen from areas affected by the oil spill, like Mississippi and Louisiana, join the fishing expeditions that his company offers.

Quepos Sailfishing has received 20 to 25 calls over the last two and a half months from fishermen based along the U.S. Gulf Coast.

“We have people who are anglers who probably weren’t planning on coming,” Merkin said.

Some messages sent to Quepos Sailfishing have requested work. The e-mails begin with phrases like: “Hey, I was a fishing captain in Louisiana …”

However, Merkin said that once the captains or mates learn of the low wages here they quickly lost interest.


Oil-Spilled Travelers


Mead and Brown, a vacation rentals company that arranges trips around the central Pacific area, has had a “significant” number of bookings from tourists forgoing trips to the Gulf. Co-owner Michael Brown said families looking to take a summer vacation don’t want to risk going near a place in the Gulf of Mexico where the spill could reach. So they begin looking for other options.

“They’re looking primarily – or maybe exclusively – for a beach vacation to replace a beach vacation,” Brown said. “And then in the course of doing their research and pursuing their options they recognize that Costa Rica has that and so much more to offer.”

Keith Blackburn, a sales associate for real estate developers Hacienda Matapalo, said they’ve pitched oceanfront properties and top-of-the-line fishing to vacationers looking for a prime fishing spot.

Still, it’s hard to gauge how many of the tourists arriving from the oil spill areas are coming to Costa Rica as a direct result of the gushing leak. And some travel companies reached by The Tico Times couldn’t confirm any vacationers coming from anywhere on the GulfCoast. What tour operators and vacation rental agencies claiming to have oil spill refugees seemed to have in common were businesses that emphasized sportfishing opportunities.

As Chudwick surmises, the GulfCoast’s likely long recovery time could signify a flourishing of business opportunities in Costa Rican waters. Data released by the American Sportfishing Association suggested the sportfishing industry will lose hundreds of millions of dollars because of the oil spill.

Blanchard said he also has friends who run sportfishing operations who are “looking for another place to fish.” And they’ve begun asking about real estate opportunities in Costa Rica.


Death Penalty


Until the scope of the damage cause by the oil spill is known, Blanchard said, businesses have to prepare to operate outside the Gulf. Blanchard fumes when talking about BP’s bungling efforts to plug the leak. He’s fed up with the inability of the oil company and the U.S. government to provide him with answers on cleanup. He said BP gave him an “insult” of a compensation check for lost business. The check was worth $165,000 or “a day and a half worth of work.”

Blanchard said he’s excited to see what he finds during his upcoming research trip to Costa Rica. The former shrimp baron said he’s always wanted to visit, and the oil spill has given him a monumental excuse to finally make the trip.

“We’re pretty much done here,” Blanchard said. “It looks like they’ve given us the death penalty.”

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