Charter boat crews will fish for the hungry in the Keys during the coronavirus crisis

May 8, 2020

In the Florida Keys, fishermen need paychecks and families need food on the table.

One nonprofit has launched a pilot program to solve both issues.

Star of the Sea Outreach Mission, a powerhouse food bank that last week gave out 45 tons of food to needy households in Key West, Stock Island, Islamorada and Key Largo through drive-through distribution sites, has created St. Peter’s Fleet.

It’s a group of charter boats hired by SOS to catch fish for the hungry.

For the past two weeks, one or two boats have gone out daily and returned with about 300 pounds of fish each day, said Emily Nixon, deputy director of SOS.

“With restaurants closed and tourists not coming down, their industry has been hit hard,” Nixon said of charter fishing in the Keys. “It’s also a sustainable source of protein to be distributed via the pantries or meal distribution.”

SOS is waiting on funding through CareerSource., which works with the Florida Department of Econonic Opportunity, to pay the wages.

But the nonprofit’s leaders decided to get the program off the ground by paying for all the costs up front, about $2,600 a week.

Empty boxes show the need for food in the Florida Keys at a food distribution site on Stock Island on May 7, 2020. Gwen Filosa
The crew of Linda D Sportfishing in Key West has been out catching fish for SOS clients. “There’s a lot of people down here in Key West hurting really bad,” said Billy Wickers III, of Linda D. Sportfishing. “They’re hurting for everything really. Everybody has been out of business. We’re trying to help everybody out the best we can.” Wickers, 48, whose family has been fishing the Keys waters since the early 1900s, said he’s been happy to help out. “We’ve been doing good for them,” he said. Right now, most of the fish is being cooked in SOS’s community kitchen in Key West and presented as healthy meals to community members, including seniors living at a Key West housing plaza. “Our food pantry clients and 200 seniors under lockdown at Henry Haskins Seniors Housing are enjoying fresh fish twice this week,” SOS executive director Tom Callahan wrote in a Facebook post about St. Peter’s Fleet. The program is set to expand to Marathon and the Upper Keys. SOS pays captains and mates $16 per hour plus $300 per boat for fuel, bait and other expenses needed to get out on the water. Most of the estimated 50 new jobs are being created for out-of-work fishermen due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. But the nonprofit said it has hired 11 furloughed workers from the hospitality industry. Callahan said anyone interested in fishing for SOS can email him at