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NJ Governor Phil Murphy, NY Governor Andrew Cuomo, and CT Governor Ned Lamont announce that marinas, boatyards and marine manufacturers will be allowed to open for personal use during the COVID-19 crisis.
By Jim Hutchinson, Jr.  |  April 20, 2020
On April 18, NJ Governor Phil Murphy releases the official Alignment of State Policies for Marinas and Boatyards between New Jersey, New York and Connecticut.

If you saw any of Saturday’s news headlines – in between hourly COVID-19 death tallies, Hollywood movie star Zoom tips on staying at home with your family, or perhaps the partisan bickering about who’s really to blame for the pandemic – you may have seen the one about New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey reopening marinas and boatyards to the public.

As reported several times at The Fisherman, even though there was nothing written publicly on a state website or revealed during any of the previous 29 daily press briefings from Governor Phil Murphy, the state of New Jersey was already allowing marinas to stay open.

In fact, in an email to the Recreational Fishing Alliance on April 7, staffers at the office of Sen. Chris Brown (R-Atlantic) confirmed from the governor’s office that marinas are not retail so they can continue to operate, while bait and tackle shops can do curbside pickup.

In terms of fishermen being able to access their boats and New Jersey marinas remaining operational during the crisis, Saturday’s announcement is a positive step forward in that it provides local business with written word that can be shared with customers and staff.

However, it’s hard from a New Jersey standpoint when it seems that every bit of good news during the crisis also comes with a dose of bad. In one breath for example, the Murphy administration opened the 2020 trout season a week early while simultaneously shutting down all state and county parks. Thus, the official tristate headline - Amid Ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic, Governor Murphy, Governor Cuomo, Governor Lamont Announce Alignment of State Policies for Marinas and Boatyards – does lead to an equal dose of local anxiety.

“New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, and Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont today announced marinas, boatyards and marine manufacturers will be allowed open for personal use as long as strict social distancing and sanitization protocols are followed,” the message from NJ.gov read on Saturday.

So, there’s the good news in printed form about New Jersey anglers being able to safely utilize their local marina. However, the very next line - “Chartered watercraft services or rentals will not be allowed” – has resulted in a bit of hand wringing within the community.

It’s no secret that our local for-hire folks are not allowed to operate; this policy has been made clear in nearly every state along the eastern seaboard at this point, with the “no” charter operations memorialized on April 2 by the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife in a list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) though that part of the website was inexplicably modified on April 16 just before the tristate order.

“We’ve committed to working with our regional partners throughout this crisis to align our policies when and where appropriate,” Governor Murphy said on Saturday, calling this unified approach “the most effective way to alleviate confusion for the residents of our states during the ongoing public health emergency.”

Confusion has mostly reigned supreme during the COVID-19 crisis. Last Thursday, police in Brick Township, NJ informed Pete Kupper, Jr. at Charlie’s Bait and Tackle that he was not allowed to operate his tackle shop by doing phone orders and curbside delivery.

The Fisherman Magazine immediately followed up with a call to 10th District Assembly rep John Catalano who was able to confirm through the Governor's office that "curbside" bait and tackle delivery is allowed. While nothing has been posted as such by either the New Jersey governor’s office or the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife, customers may not enter 'non-essential' retail stores like local bait shops, but phone orders and curbside pickup are allowed.

Assemblyman Catalano (a republican) reached out to Brick Township mayor John Ducey (a democrat) to help rectify the situation. Local police were back in Kupper’s shop later in the afternoon to confirm that Charlie’s could remain open. The Deputy Attorney General’s office has apparently gotten involved and a letter of allowance is expected to be sent to shops for corroboration.

And now the new confusion; were boat liveries and rental operations allowed to operate in New Jersey on Saturday morning, but their businesses effectively shuttered on Sunday? The Fisherman received a phone call from Robin Scott of Ray Scott’s Dock in Margate on Sunday, asking pretty much that very same question. “There’s a lot of teeth gnashing going on around here,” Scott said.

New York’s recreational boating and fishing community has been hammered by COVID-19 restrictions. When you have 8.4 million residents spread out over 302 square miles forced to literally live on top of one another as they do in New York City, one can expect such issues during a pandemic. Governor Cuomo’s quote related to Saturday’s announcement perhaps indicates more of the goal of stemming tourism and interstate travel options during the crisis through this unified approach.

“Aligning our policies in this area is another example of that strong partnership, and will help ensure there is no confusion or ‘state shopping’ when it comes to marinas and boatyards,” Governor Cuomo said on Saturday. The effort to eliminate “state shopping” is aimed at stemming tourism across state lines, thus the tristate alignment of policies to cease rental boat operations.

Just last week, New Jersey’s governor was grilled by Tucker Carlson on FOX NEWS about the science behind his decision to close down state and county parks, to which Murphy responded “there were a lot of out of state license plates in the parking lots.”

With less than a month to go before the official start of the summer tourism season and the May 22 start of New Jersey’s summer flounder season, we seem to be taking one step back in terms of fishing tourism. But in terms of what we’ll actually be able to do by Memorial Day weekend, let’s hope this “unified approach” actually pays off.

See more at petition to provide economic relief to the NJ Recreational for hire fishing industry small businesses.