The Southern Ocean County Chamber of Commerce will no longer run the Long Beach Island Surf Fishing Classic after 58 years.
Local business owners, fishermen and a Long Beach Island mayor railed against the chamber on Monday, saying it would hurt businesses if the tournament wasn’t held. They said it sends the wrong message about the island’s condition after Hurricane Sandy.
Long Beach Township Mayor Joseph Mancini said the township will pick up the tournament and sponsor it, if there is no other option. He said the message the chamber is sending to the public and potential vacationers is damaging as the island works to prepare for a normal summer season.
Mancini said he is working with business owners and other island officials to make sure the tournament happens in October.
“It sounds like we not only had our beaches destroyed, but also the fishing industry was destroyed. We’re not going to let this fall down. It’s not going to happen. We’re going to pick it back up,” Mancini said.
Chris Schwab, president of the Southern Ocean County Chamber of Commerce, said there is a large amount of misinformation on Facebook regarding the future of the event.
“First of all, it’s not canceled. We’re not dropping the ball,” Schwab said.
“The chamber told the (tournament) committee that they needed to start planning and incorporating the administrative part of the planning into the event, because we would no longer be able to do it. That was told to them six years ago,” he said.
Schwab said the chamber has remained steadfast that its staff will continue to help organizers with the transition of the administrative portion of the event planning.
On Monday morning, Margaret O’Brien, 65, the owner of Jingles Bait and Tackle in Beach Haven, sat at her counter on her laptop computer, updating the Facebook page she launched called “Support for the Long Beach Island Fishing Tournament.” She said she started the page Sunday and had more than 100 followers by Monday.
“Tourism and fishing are the biggest industries here, and this isn’t the time to lose business,” she said.
She pointed to the months after the 1962 storm on the island and said the tournament was still held that year.
“I thought this is what the chamber does — bringing business to the island. We usually have people coming in from Ohio, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Connecticut and North Jersey,” she said.
Stephen DiPietro owns four restaurants in Long Beach Township and called the chamber’s decision ridiculous and out of touch with reality.
“And their answer is that it’s not economically feasible anymore because of administrative costs? The tournament brought in 600 people last year at $30 a pop,” DiPietro said.
DiPietro said every day during the fishing tournament there is a minimum of five to 10 trucks with their fishing rods parked outside his California Grill. The event has become a tradition, and without it, the damaging economic effects will stretch across the island, he said.
“They come, they enjoy the sunrise and the emptiness of Long Beach Island at that time of the year. This is an old-school thing. They get a burger, a sandwich ... They warm up. They get some chowder. This is a separate segment of the market that comes specifically for that,” he said.
In an email last week, Michele Cuff, the chamber’s office manager, wrote, “After much discussion and careful consideration, our Board of Directors has had to make decisions on how our organization can best meet the demand of this post storm environment. It was determined the Chamber of Commerce can no longer continue its role of organizing and running the LBI Surf Fishing Classic.”
Cuff wrote that the chamber remains committed to promoting local recreational fishing, including contest and tournaments, through its online calendar of events, press release distribution and other marketing avenues. She could not be reached for further comment Monday.
Greg Cudnik, manager of Fisherman’s Headquarters in Ship Bottom, called the chamber’s decision about the tournament “a major bummer” on Monday afternoon.
“Of all the times for something like this to happen, this isn’t the right time with the uncertainty after the storm of who is going to come down and what the season is going to be like. Without the tourney, I don’t know how our season will be extended into the fall,” the 27-year-old Cudnik said.
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