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NJ PARTY BOATS TO INCREASE CAPACITY

Larger inspected vessels able to carry upwards of 140 passengers - like the 125’ Jamaica out of Brielle - have been running at about 15% capacity due to the COVID-19 pandemic, until this week!
By Jim Hutchinson, Jr.  |  June 17, 2020
NJ PARTY BOATS TO INCREASE CAPACITY
New Jersey headboats like the Norma K III out of Point Pleasant are effectively back in business now that the governor has allowed more than 25 passengers to sail, so long as key social distancing protocols are followed by captains, crews and anglers alike.

In recent years, the general feeling in the recreational fishing community is that each and every angler should have his or her own lawyer/lobbyist in tow, just to stay on top of the ever-changing rules and regulations.

Throw in the COVID-19 crisis of 2020, and there’s no way anglers could’ve gotten as much access as we have this season without a team of advocates working on our behalf behind the scenes; and yes, that includes both lawyers and lobbyists!

Along every step of the way since New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy’s initial “stay at home” executive order in March, a team of fishermen working with the United Boatmen of New Jersey, and the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA) through their New Jersey chapter has led the effort in Trenton to keep us fishing through the crisis, from the initial curbside bait and tackle sales to the initial allowance of for-hire fishing prior to that of neighboring states.

Both organizations also worked in tandem with the Marine Trades Association of New Jersey in their efforts on behalf of marinas and boat liveries in the Garden State.

As reported earlier this week by Dan Radel at the Asbury Park Press, New Jersey’s party boat community has gotten another boost with the lifting of the 25-passenger limit placed on the for-hire fishing community by New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy on May 22

“(RFA’s) John Depersenaire, Howard (Bogan), Ed Kirschenbaum and I received notice from Congressman Smith’s office yesterday that the 25-passenger limit has been suspended,” said Capt. Ray Bogan in an email this past Sunday night. The general counsel for all three organizations, Bogan is a partner in the law firm of Sinn, Fitzsimmons, Cantoli, Bogan, West & Steuerman in Point Pleasant Beach, NJ and said the notice he received was enough to inform headboat operators that they are allowed to increase capacity yet again.

“I texted a couple of folks and I’m sure there was talk on the VHFs. For-hire boats are still subject to the 6-foot separation and other virus avoidance measures,” Bogan said on Sunday.

This morning, The Fisherman Magazine was able to confirm through state officials that the NJ Office of Emergency Management website would be updated accordingly with that confirmation.

On June 9, Gov. Murphy effectively lifted the “stay at home order” in New Jersey, leading many to believe that the 25-person limit on larger, Coast Guard inspected passenger vessels had been lifted in New Jersey. However, upon closer inspection of Gov. Murphy’s executive order #153, it showed that the earlier limit on passenger capacity previously included in his executive order #152 was still in place.

With another week of heavy lifting by the RFA and United Boatmen team, the headboats of New Jersey can begin allowing more passengers onboard based on vessel length and beam limiting “total capacity to a number that ensures that all individuals can remain 6 feet apart.”

Other requirements outlined in the governor’s newest orders allow recreational and entertainment businesses previously closed to the public to reopen include allowing members of the public to enter the indoor premises of a recreation business to use the restroom, limiting use of rental equipment to one person at a time (excluding immediate family members, caretakers, household members, or romantic partners), the sanitization of such equipment and providing of sanitization materials, such as hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes, to staff and customers;.

Customers coming out for a little headboat fishing this season should expect to continue wearing face shields while following the ongoing guidelines and directives “for maintaining a clean, safe and healthy work environment,” with touchless payment via credit card over phone or internet. The party boats will also demarcate and post signs that denote 6 feet of spacing in all commonly used and other applicable areas or where people may form a line or fish along the rails.

“This is great news,” Bogan wrote via email, saying later he was happy to know that this long, arduous journey through the crisis finally seems to have cleared the final obstacles. “We had spoken to Jo Schloeder of Congressman Smith’s office earlier last week about getting the final hurdle lifted and Jim (Donofrio of the RFA) sent a final letter to the Governor on the issue. I’m not sure if any other legislators spoke to the Governor, or anyone from his office, last week, but we’re thankful to Congressman Smith for staying on top of this,” Bogan added.

“The peaceful perseverance these captains, many who I’ve known for many years, exercised during this crisis while we worked things out defines who we are as an industry,” said RFA executive director Jim Donofrio.

“And not just the captains and the crews of the head boats, but this is very important for the recreational anglers who fish on these boats as they provide access to areas and species only accessible by boat,” Donofrio said, adding “These are anglers who may not have the ability to pay for a charter trip or own their own boat, and the initial capacity cap had forced operators to increase fares which put a strain on anglers who sail on these larger inspected vessels.”

“So, this is a win for the anglers for fishing head boats as well, not just the business owners,” Donofrio added.

The Fisherman News - State-By-State Rundown Of For-Hire Operations