BELMAR — After more than two months, Ron Kish, captain of the Capt. Call II, which is docked in Belmar, was counting the days until he could take anglers out. 

With no money coming in and most of his crew on furlough, things looked bleak, not just for Mr. Kish, but other charter and party boat owners in Belmar. 

On Saturday, Gov. Phil Murphy announced that charter and party boats could operate at reduced capacity, as long as those onboard abide by social distancing, wear face masks and disinfectant was kept on hand. 

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The news came as a welcome surprise to Mr. Kish.

“You had to get the paddles to shock me,” he said on Sunday. “It was a great surprise and it was great and wonderful news.”

Boats were allowed to start at 6 a.m. on Sunday, May 17, with anglers staying 6 feet apart from one another and everyone on a vessel required to wear a face mask. For the past few months, charter boat owners in Belmar have had to lay off members of their crew due to lost revenue. 

May is one of the most important months for the recreational fishing industry. Memorial Day weekend brings an influx of beach-goers and fishermen, and one of the most popular seasons, summer flounder, is set to open on May 22. 

“Today was a turning point for our families, it was a turning point for us to get back to work and it was a turning point that we could start feeding our families the way we wanted to. This was a great step in the right direction, it was a long road,” Mr. Kish said. 

On Saturday, May 16, the governor issued Executive Order 146, allowing charter boats and for-hire fishing vessels to take on customers. Under the order, boats have to have:

  • 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.
  • Prohibit sharing of fishing equipment, bait and gear.
  • Limit the use of nets or gaffs to the crew.
  • Infection control and hygiene practices.
  • Provide 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.
  • Prohibit food and beverage service.
  • Brief all passengers prior to embarking on social distancing, capacity limits and hygiene requirements.

“Reopening charter fishing services and watercraft rental businesses restores an extremely important component of our Shore economy.” said Gov. Murphy. “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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