On Sunday, Captain Irv Hurd took the Miss Avalon out on the water – with far fewer passengers and far more hand sanitizer than usual for her family’s fourth-generation charter fishing service on the New Coast. Jersey.
It was the first day that New Jersey fishing charters, rental boats and personal watercraft rentals were allowed to resume operations since the coronavirus pandemic shut down non-essential businesses, another step towards reopening of the normally booming seasonal economy of the Jersey Shore.
In an executive order on Saturday, Gov. Phil Murphy allowed services, including boats that take people on fishing trips, to operate under strict guidelines to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, including limiting vessel capacity to 10 people and requiring the crew and passengers to wear masks.
This meant that Hurd’s small group of passengers on the Miss Avalon stayed six feet apart; he sprayed the toilets of the boat after each use; and everyone’s hands were getting raw from the repeated disinfections. The sun was inside and out as the wind blew from the east. Wherever the group dropped the lines, they started catching fish.
âIt was a different way of doing business. It was unique because I had to clean the bathroom 35 times today, âsaid Hurd, 58, of Avalon. “But after doing it for a day, our first day, I certainly understand why the procedures are in place, and we just had to adapt and do it that way if we are to stay in business.”
But Hurd and other fishing captains said Murphy’s restriction on passenger numbers would prevent them from making money on boats large enough to hold maybe two dozen people while maintaining social distancing.
Hurd was planning to cancel a trip booked for Monday and had canceled other trips in June.
At Point Pleasant Beach, Captain David Riback had sold more tickets within hours of Murphy’s announcement on Saturday than in the past two months, and he took out a party of eight on Sunday to fill bags of sea ââbass and red hake. But after bringing in his boat, he said he considers his business to be virtually closed until passenger capacity can increase.
âI’m in no rush to get out and break even or lose money. I might as well stay tied to the dock, âsaid Riback, who had to cancel a party of 25 he had booked for Sunday before the executive order was issued spelling out the restrictions.
Murphy said his order was an effort to open up more outdoor recreational activities to New Jersey residents as the state advances in slowing the rate of infection from the coronavirus, which has killed more than 10,000 people and infected at least 146,000.
He announced last week that the beaches and boardwalks would be allowed to open in time for Memorial Day weekend.
âThe reopening of charter fishing services and boat rental businesses is restoring an extremely important component of our coastal economy,â said Murphy. âThe social distancing measures we are putting in place will ensure that these businesses can support themselves while complying with public health guidelines. “
The Recreational Fishing Alliance and United Boatmen of New Jersey had pushed for the reopening of the rental boat industry, submitting a proposal to the state for guidelines that would have limited capacity but allow passenger numbers based on size. Of the boat.
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Riback was hoping he wouldn’t have to refund any of the ticket orders that have poured in since Saturday, which are booked from Memorial Day weekend through July. Operating an 85-foot vessel, her typical weekday voyages have 30 to 40 people on board; 50 to 70 on weekends.
âWe can socially alienate people – we can do a much better job than Walmart for sure,â said Riback, who operates the Queen Mary and has been a full-time fishing boat captain since 1994.
Riback and others have said they hope Murphy will increase licensed capacity before Memorial Day weekend; there had already been “a wave of outpourings” from the industry in response to the governor’s order, Hurd said.
“We just hope they relax and give us just a few more people so we can at least make some money at the end of the day,” said Hurd, whose son operates the second boat in the family, the Avalon Lady.
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Away from shore, other boat rental companies were also studying the decree. Pinelands Adventures, which offers canoe and kayak rentals in the Pine Barrens, hoped to confirm Monday that they could resume paddling services in the state forests.
Even then, they still have to figure out how to ensure safety on the buses that normally take customers to the water. They have already bought disinfectant and foggers to clean buses, life jackets, paddles and kayaks, manager Rob Ferber said.
“We’re going to have to reopen at some point, one way or another … [but] it won’t be business as usual, âsaid Ferber, who also remained concerned about the spread of the coronavirus in the state. “Yes, I want to open up, but I want to be able to do it safely and I don’t want to endanger anyone. I don’t want to lose sight of that.”
At Bayview Marina in Ocean City, owners Maira and Wally Middleton also felt cautious. They planned to hang signs telling customers: No mask, no service.
âWe are taking every precaution to keep everyone safe,â Maira said. “A lot of people choose not to wear a mask, but we choose to be a good example.”
It was planning to reopen on Friday for their 33rd season of jet ski rental and other water sports services. They were preparing to disinfect all vessels between each use and follow state-mandated precautions. With so many visitors coming from out of state, Middleton said she hoped people would respect the need to be careful.
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âEven though it’s our livelihood, I’m very nervous,â she said of Shore reopening. âI just hope it’s going to be a safe season and that the opening of the ocean hasn’t been too, too, too rushed. â¦ We have to do this at some point, but I guess it will be a good try.
Still, she predicted she would feel “ecstatic” to reopen and see clients.
âWe are very grateful. It affected us a bit. Normally in recent yearsâ¦ we hit the water in April, âshe said. “I’m just super excited and welcome everyone this Memorial Day weekend.”
Captain John Williams of Blue Chip Sportfishing in Point Pleasant Beach spent Sunday getting ready for customers, but he too was planning to “refuel” by Memorial Day – and he was feeling “good!” GOOD âto be able to reopen, he said.
âWith the economy, business can be a bit sluggish,â Williams said, âbut people love to fish. They wait all year round to fish with family or friends.
The closure of businesses during the pandemic has meant charters like Williams’ have missed the striped bass season, but Murphy’s order gives them time to catch the bass season, which opened on Friday, and the season. strokes of luck, starting later this month, Williams said.
âNow,â he said, âwe have to go get the fish. “