A multi-million dollar investment, an upcoming fish tournament and an interest in FADs are currently on the radar of the Club Náutico de San Juan.
The operator of the 117-slip San Juan marina, one of the oldest in Puerto Rico and home to pricey vessels worth millions of dollars, is getting ready to plunk $1.5 million to rebuild its main dock, in an upgrading aimed at luring bigger boats and new members from and off the island.
Construction, funded through the club’s own resources, is to begin in October or November and will take eight months, according to Salvador Egea, chairman of the club’s International Billfish Tournament to be held next month along the northern trench of Puerto Rico
The invitational event, held since 1953, draws anglers from Puerto Rico, the U.S. and abroad. There should be plenty of fish biting thanks to the recent deployment of FADs, or Fishing Aggregating Devices, that help lure marine life.
By investing in a new pier, Club Náutico is not just upgrading its facility, but boosting its ability to compete against other marinas for new members (in keeping with the troubled economy, the club has lowered its membership fee from $10,000 to $5,000) and attract the sought after marine tourist.
This niche tourist segment has great potential for Puerto Rico because of the price advantages the island offers boat owners heading to the Caribbean for recreational sailing or fishing, according to Egea.
(The Puerto Rico government is similarly interested in developing this market and recently announced it contracted Boston-based Edgewater Resources to develop a marina for mega0yachts at Piers 8 and 9 in Puerta de Tierra.)
Typically, owners send in their boats and crews ahead of time to stock up on fuel and provisions. Supplies, such as water and fuel, tend to be more expensive in the smaller Caribbean islands where the cost of living is higher, he said.
Fuel prices in Puerto Rico run 30 percent to 40 percent less than in other islands, according to Egea, a vice president and operations manager at Tropical Vendors, the family company headed by his father.
“Puerto Rico should become the first stop for provisions,” he said.
One component of marine tourism is tournaments like the upcoming IBT which benefits the Puerto Rico economy through the expenditures incurred by visiting anglers such as lodging, registration, food and tournament-related expenses such as tackles, Egea said.
Out of 240 anglers expected to participate, some 50 will come from areas outside Puerto Rico. The longest consecutively held big game fishing tournament in the world, IBT runs Sept. 12-18.
Egea anticipated excellent fishing to be had this year thanks to the FADs system installed along the island’s north coast (As an all-release tournament, all fish caught are released back into the ocean).
A FAD is a yellow buoy tethered to the ocean floor with concrete blocks. It acts as a beacon to draw marine life to the area.
“These buoys are helping anglers — and Puerto Rico as well — to boost the management and restoration of marine life. Fishing is really picking up,” Egea was quoted in an article.
An investment of $17,000 each, FADs are multiplying fast. Since August 2015, six FADs have been deployed five miles out to sea between Manatí and Loíza. Another four will be added before the end of the year.
Over the next few years, an additional 37 FADS are expected to be deployed by the LegadoAzul Foundation, a nonprofit organization spearheading the initiative with funding from a U.S. Fish and Sport Fish Restoration Program grant awarded to Puerto Rico’s Department of Natural Resources.
According to Foundation President Alfredo Torruella, FADs are revitalizing the charter boat business in municipalities such as Carolina, Fajardo and Dorado.