Murphy OKs Return Of For-Hire Fishing, With Limits

TRENTON, NJ — Party and charter boats were able to begin carrying fishing customers starting Sunday morning, after Gov. Phil Murphy signed an executive order Saturday to allow the resumption of those businesses .

Murphy’s order, which also allows watercraft rental businesses to resume operating, sets out social distancing measures limiting capacity and changing the way some have operated for decades, as the state continues to face the coronavirus crisis.

“Reopening charter fishing services and watercraft rental businesses restores an extremely important component of our Shore economy,” Murphy said. “The social distancing measures that we are putting in place will ensure that these businesses can sustain themselves while still adhering to public health guidance.”

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For-hire fishing had been shut down, designated a nonessential business, when Murphy issued his stay-at-home order March 21.

Charter fishing services and for-hire vessels are allowed to reopen to the public so long as they adopt policies that include:

Reduced capacity to no more than 10 people on a vessel at any one time. Electronic or telephone reservation and payment systems. No make-up or open boat trips. Social distancing measures on the vessels and in waiting and boarding areas, including demarcation and signage. Prohibiting the sharing of fishing equipment, bait and gear. Limiting the use of nets or gaffs to the crew. Infection control and hygiene practices. Providing sanitization materials to passengers and crew. Frequent sanitization of vessel and high-touch areas. The crew and passengers must wear a mask while aboard the vessel. Prohibiting food and beverage service. Briefing all passengers prior to embarking on social distancing, capacity limits and hygiene requirements.

Watercraft rental businesses will be allowed to reopen so long as they adopt policies consistent with the “curbside pickup” restrictions that apply to retail establishments. Read more: NJ Coronavirus Updates: Here’s What You Need To Know

Some of the largest boats party boats, such as the Gambler out of Point Pleasant and the Jamaica out of Brielle, can hold 40 or more passengers, and for years they have operated primarily on first-come, first-served basis.

The Gambler’s crew said it was holding off temporarily on sailing until it could get clarification on guidelines and restrictions, particularly on the number of passengers.

“We know this is frustrating. We want to get out just as much as you do,” the boat’s crew said on Facebook. “We appreciate everyone’s support during this time.”

The Big Mohawk, which sails from Belmar, was moving forward and taking reservations for Sunday’s trip. “We got approval today from the governor,” the boat’s crew said. “We are headed out tomorrow morning to fish for sea bass.”

The season for black sea bass, one of the more popular species, opened Saturday. Striped bass are being caught off the coast as well.

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