Daily Record Business Writer
July 30, 2009 6:49 PM
OCEAN CITY — Jim Motsko had no idea 36 years ago that his scheme to earn money while fishing would ever amount to anything.
But his tournament idea quickly took off, and the White Marlin Open, which begins Monday, has become The crew of the Cerveza, out of Pirates Cove, N.C., fights a white marlin on the first day of the 2008 tournament.
the largest billfish tournament in the world, bringing thousands of people to Ocean City each August. Anglers come from up and down the East Coast to compete for their shot at hundreds of thousands of dollars in prizes — and to spend money hand over fist while they’re here.
But with the cost of fuel last summer causing the biggest drop in entrants in the tournament’s history, and the recession this summer still scaring away boat owners who can’t afford the costs, the economic boost the White Marlin Open usually delivers to local retailers has been softer in recent years.
“You reach a point where there’s no boat docks left,” Motsko, 62, said. “We were at that point a couple years ago. Now I can tell you of 20 docks with space left off the top of my head.”
The city estimates more than 300,000 people come here during tournament week, comparable to a Fourth of July weekend. But those who come for the White Marlin Open are no ordinary tourists, said Memo Diricker, director of the Business Economic and Community Outreach Network at Salisbury University.
“Per day spending of these kinds of high-end events tends to be much higher-focused than when a regular tourist comes to the beach,” he said. “In some cases, spending is almost 1½ to two times the average per-day expenditure.”
The White Marlin Open reached its height in 2005, when 446 boats were entered. According to estimates, depending on the size of the boat, it can cost between $3,000 and $5,000 per day to enter the five-day tournament in which entrants choose three days (usually Monday, Tuesday and Friday) to fish. That includes the tournament fee, which can range from $1,000 for the base fee to more than $15,000 to enter all prize categories, fuel, bait, tackle and other supplies.