(Feb. 19, 2021) Local watermen and charter boat operators don’t quite understand the logic behind President Joe Biden’s Jan. 21 executive order requiring passengers and crew to wear masks when their vessels are in federally regulated waters, but they have little choice but to follow the rules.
If they don’t, they could run into trouble with the Coast Guard, which is charged with enforcing the new regulation authorized by an executive order issued by President Joe Biden.
Chief Brad Temple from Coast Guard Station Ocean City said that he and his crew are working with local law enforcement to implement the executive order and to ensure owners and operators comply with CDC guidelines.
To that end, the CDC guidance recommends that boat operators only allow people wearing masks to board their vessels, and to instruct prospective passengers that failure to wear a mask on board constitutes a violation of federal law.
Rep. Andy Harris (R-1st), whose district includes all of Maryland’s Eastern Shore, doesn’t agree.
“While appropriate on some modes of transportation where social distancing with strangers cannot be maintained, this mandate is overly broad and leading to unforeseen frustration.
“Our watermen are completely outdoors, often numbering no more than three per vessel, and have been working together without interruption since the beginning of this pandemic – they are at extremely low-risk by the nature of their work,” Harris said Tuesday.
“Rather than being the Biden mask police for a low-transmission industry, the Coast Guard should be spending their valuable time doing their core duties, especially drug enforcement.”
The primary mission of Coast Guard Station Ocean City is search-and-rescue and law enforcement, but drug interdiction is not high on its list of assignments.
Sonny Gwin, owner of Skilligalee Seafood, a commercial fishing operation out of West Ocean City, similarly said the mask mandate is “burdensome” because it will be challenging to keep the masks clean and to communicate quickly with crew members over the noise of the vessel.
Although he believes the coronavirus pandemic is a serious situation, Gwin said “what we’re doing to alleviate the problem seems kind of questionable.”
He is also hopeful that coronavirus will be less of a concern with the covid-19 vaccine distribution.
He added that there have been no cases of coronavirus among his three-person crew, including himself. He added that he has taken precautions such as questioning crew members about potential exposures before allowing them on the boat.
Neither has Wrecker Sport Fishing in Ocean City experienced any positive covid-19 cases associated with its business.
“We roughly had 470 people on this boat last summer between a hundred trips and not a single one said they had it or came back and said they got sick from being with us,” Capt. Jeremy Blunt said.
He added that he only knows of one charter boat that was contacted about a positive covid-19 case.
Wrecker Sport Fishing sanitized the boat after each fishing trip last season.
Blunt said the mask mandate will negatively affect business of charter services. During the 2020 season, Blunt said most of his charters felt that if they were forced to wear a mask they weren’t going to pay to go fishing.
Last year was a successful year because people could fish together while there were other restrictions on social gatherings.
“Every charter boat still stayed very busy despite covid, but this mandate, if they enforce it, that could just be a total opposite summer for us because people don’t want to do it. They want to enjoy themselves outdoors,” Blunt said.