Chartering fishing boats are allowed to operate again beginning this Friday, but with strings attached.
While Virginia never shut down recreational boating during the COVID-19 pandemic like Maryland did, the state did ban charter fishing operations (Maryland’s charters stayed open, one of the few exceptions to its boating ban).
Now, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam says charter fishing vessels may resume Friday, May 15 as part of Phase One in the state’s reopening process. But charter boat operators and guests must follow the Virginia Marine Resources Commission’s (VMRC) guidelines, including disinfecting high-contact surfaces every two hours, temperature checks for employees, and screening guests’ health and travel history.
Any charter groups of six or more must consist of a family that has been sheltering in place together or for groups of non-family members, there must be “six feet of boat per passenger.”
In a Facebook post to the Virginia Saltwater Sportfishing Association, VMRC Commissioner Steve Bowman wrote, “I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of those in the Charter boat community that have been impacted by the Covid-19 closure for their patience during this difficult time.”
The Virginia Saltwater Sportfishing Association (VSSA) says the reopening will help the charter industry, but only so much.
“We are glad to see charters as part of the Phase One opening for businesses but the rules put in place are going to cause continued hardships,” Secretary Mike Avery tells Bay Bulletin.
While VSSA is comfortable with the sanitizing and screening guidelines, Avery predicts considerably reduced bookings because of the limited number of guests allowed on each boat, saying, “Many will not want to pay a full boat price for only 2 or 3 people paying the whole cost.”
Virginia’s Phase One will not lift restrictions on beaches, which are currently open only for fitness activities and fishing–not lounging on the sand. Maryland reopened state beaches last week and Ocean City opened its beach, inlet parking and boardwalk on Saturday. The Commonwealth also cautions that Northern Virginia may be excluded or delayed from adopting Phase One, because its coronavirus cases are significantly higher than elsewhere in the state.
–Meg Walburn Viviano