Fishermen unite for Destin Charter Boat Association

Tina Harbuck | 315-4466 | @DestinLogTina |
Members of the Destin Charter Boat Association were among the thousands who attended the United We Fish march on Washington, D.C. in 2010. TINA HARBUCK/THE LOG

Although it’s had its ebbs and flows, the anchor of the Destin Charter Boat Association has remained the same for the last six decades — unite and promote fishing for what has been tagged the “World’s Luckiest Fishing Village.”

Made up of Destin charter boat captains and their families that represent the fishing heritage of Destin, the DCBA got its start in 1954.

Over the years the organization has grown and the objectives have changed somewhat.

Setting Sail

In the beginnings it was about getting Destin recognized for its fishing.

“We just tried to get Destin on the map,” said Capt. Tommy Browning, who ran the Finest Kind for more than 40 years and served on the board of the DCBA.

One of the ways they accomplished getting Destin recognized as a fishing mecca was to take pictures of their anglers and send them to newspapers out of the area, such as the Commercial Appeal in Memphis, Tennessee.

And it didn’t take long before those photos of huge red snapper and billfish caught the eyes of other anglers that made their way to the Gulf Coast.

With Capt. Cecil Woodward as the first president, the group of captains met monthly.

“We’d just talk over things about Destin … not much to talk about in those days,” Browning said.

Capt. William Frank Davis, 86, ran the Anastasia served as president of the DCBA in the '70s.

“It’s so far back I can’t remember exactly when,” said Davis, who is still an honorary member of the group.

Nevertheless, he recalls forming the association was for the good.

“It’s the best thing they ever did when they started it,” Davis said.

When Davis was president in the '70s, the association had about 25 to 35 charter boats in the association.

“Back then, most of our boats were six passenger boats, and there were a few head boats,” he said.

The cost in 1968 for an eight-hour trip was $60 a day, and diesel was 16 cents a gallon, Davis said.

In addition to getting Destin recognized, one of the main objectives of the DCBA in the early days was to prolong the fishing season.

“Everything used to stop at Labor Day,” Davis said. “But everybody worked together and it united us.

“It’s one of the best things we ever done. It put Destin on the map and we’ve got more boats today than anybody,” he added.

Today, the DCBA boasts 80-plus members and the fishing season typically goes through the end of October culminating with the Destin Fishing Rodeo.

Change of Course

“(The DCBA has) changed over the years,” said Capt. Mike Eller of the Lady Em and a past president. “Since the '80s, fisheries management and protecting the recreational customer’s right to fish” has moved to the forefront of the DCBA.

The last 20 years, the DCBA has weighed in on fishery management at the state and federal level and is very involved with management decisions that affect the recreational fisherman.

“We stand up at the meeting halls,” Eller said. “They are used to seeing Destin fishermen. They know we are a serious group of men and women … serious about our industry.”

In 2010, more than 30 members of the DCBA participated in the United We Fish March in Washington, D.C.

Just last week, Capt. Gary Jarvis, current president of the DCBA and captain of the Backdown 2, attended a meeting in Tampa concerning electronic log books for the charter boats.

Voyage Ahead

Since being elected about three years ago, Jarvis has built on the many years of leadership provided by Eller and Capt. Scott Robson.

“I have tried to develop a culture of professionalism and involvement in preservation of the Destin fishing heritage with increased involvement of individual charter fishing business owners who are members of the DCBA,” Jarvis said.

As a result, the membership has grown.

The DCBA holds monthly meetings and brings in monthly presenters, such as officers from the Coast Guard to better understand regulations, CPR certifiers, insurance adjusters and social media companies, just to name a few.

In the last five to eight years, the fishing industry and fleet has had major political obstacles to overcome.

“Some of these threatened the very existence of the fishing heritage that our community has held for generations,” Jarvis said.

However, to make the voyage ahead a successful one, Jarvis says it’s important for the fishermen to work closely with the Destin City Council, Okaloosa County Commission, state legislators and congressional representatives.

“It’s critical to make sure our fleet's interest is in the forefront of their future actions,” he said.

The DCBA is the largest charter for hire organization in the Gulf of Mexico and Florida.

“I have worked hard to make sure that distinction is known as we stay involved with the politics that affect our bottom line,” Jarvis said.

Legacy and Luck of the Village

Although the DCBA’s main concern revolves around fishing and the future of fishing, it’s not all business.

“Our biggest legacy is the Destin Seafood Festival,” Eller said.

Thirty-eight years ago, the wives of the fishermen, tagged as the Destin Charter Boat Wives Auxiliary, took it upon themselves to start the seafood festival.

Today, the festival is still held along the Destin harbor and showcases some the best Destin has to offer.

The monies from the festival help the fishermen to attend meetings and support other events around Destin, such as the Destin Fishing Rodeo, the Destin History and Fishing Museum, Miss Destin Pageant and the Fishermen’s for Christ Foundation.

Members of the DCBA count themselves lucky to be a part of it.

“We know we’re very lucky to continue our tradition,” Eller said. “And if we stand together, we stand a better chance of surviving as an industry.”