CDC orders masks be worn on all commercial fishing vessels, Coast Guard must enforce the new rule

Fisherman fear an increase in seasickness across the board of their low-risk profession
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commercial fishing boats
Shrimping trawlers, Atlantic Ocean Inlet, Brownsville, Texas. March 2014.
(Carol M. Highsmith/Buyenlarge/Getty Images)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued new directives requiring the wearing of coronavirus masks on commercial fishing boats, sparking backlash about the federal government targeting an industry in which most of the work is done outdoors and far away from the general public.

The order comes as coronavirus positivity rates have begun to decline across the nation, and the spring and summer boating seasons approach. 

In Ocean City, Maryland, where boating of all sorts makes up a significant portion of the local economy, Maryland GOP Rep. Andy Harris is sounding the alarm on the new guidance, which the Coast Guard has been instructed to enforce. 

"While appropriate on some modes of transportation where social distancing with strangers cannot be maintained, this mandate is overly broad and leading to unseen frustration. The Coast Guard has issued guidance that all commercial fishing vessel occupants will be required to wear masks, and that they will enforce this mandate," said Harris, Maryland's sole Republican congressman. 

Harris contests the order on the grounds that commercial fishing is an actively that primarily occurs outdoors, on the water, in the fresh air.

"Our watermen are completely outdoors, often numbering no more than three per vessel and have been working together without interruption since the beginning of this pandemic. They are at extremely low-risk by the nature of their work," he said.

Local commercial and recreational fishing industries continue to parse the language of the order, which requires passengers and crews to don masks on vessels from the time of boarding to the time of disembarking. Some local captains fear the order will lead to a dramatic increase in the amount of seasickness seen onboard some of the vessels. 

"I urge the CDC to come forward and clarify this mandate, which includes sleeping while onboard, lacks legitimate scientific backing for small craft fishing vessels with minimal persons working onboard in an outdoor environment. Rather than being Biden mask police for a low transmission industry, the Coast Guard should be spending their valuable time doing their core duties, especially drug enforcement," continued the congressman.