UNION – Restrictions on out of state visitors due to COVID-19 are making business nearly impossible for registered Maine Guides during what should be a busy time of year.
Memorial Day weekend has offered perfect conditions for a fishing trip with a registered Maine Guide, yet Master Guide Don Kleiner and Maine Outdoors has no customers in his boat. “The thing about guide world is that we’ve evolved in to primarily a business that serves the non-resident community so this current shutdown where non-residents can’t come, effectively my business is closed,” said Kleiner.
For the appromixately 6,300 licensed guides across Maine, the state’s requirement for a fourteen-day quarantine by visitors from out of state has cratered their business. Kleiner says 95% of his customers are not Maine residents, and the proportion is comparable for other guides.”To me, we have, collectively as guides, not reached out to the Maine resident community and there’s some opportunity there and we need to make that pivot as well,” said Kleiner.
Customers with the ability to commit to a two week quarantine in state, such as those with property in Maine, are still booking trips. Kleiner said Saturday he has customers tell him they are eager to go out on fishing trips, “we’re going to do our fourteen day quarantine at our place, we will be with you on day fifteen so there is that level of eagerness to go.”
Maine Outdoors specializes in family fishing trips. Groups of more than four make social distancing next to impossible on a boat, altering Kleiner’s ability to operate; “four of you and one of me, we’re not six feet apart so that’s a business change right away.”
Kleiner has also been the executive director of the Maine Professional Guides Association for the past ten years. He recently surveyed his members on their use of the federal Small Business Administration loans. 20% of MPGA members applied for these loans, but Kleiner says only three percent of them got approved; “those programs did not works for my folks and my focus at this point, and I’m dead serious, is how do we get them through to this time next year so we can pick up.”
To make it to next year, Maine guides will have to work to bring in Maine residents. Kleiner says he plans to focus on those without much experience on the water, “I’m interested in speaking to those that just don’t get out, don’t fly fish and don’t know how, it looks interesting but there’s no way to do it, we’ll here’s an opportunity.”