By Crystal Cranmore

OCEAN CITY, N.J. (CBS) — It’s time to hang up the “gone fishing” sign in New Jersey. The state is relaxing more restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Gov. Phil Murphy allowed fishing boat and watercraft rentals to reopen on Sunday morning, and that was a relief for business owners down the shore.

Business owners on Bay Avenue in Ocean City prepared their boats and jet skis on Sunday.

“Been here since 2005, went through all the storms and hurricanes, and we are still here,” Arthur Weiler, owner, Pirates Cove Marina, said.

And now, there’s one less obstacle they have to deal with in the middle of the pandemic.

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Murphy signed an executive order on Saturday allowing all watercraft rentals, charter fishing services, and for-hire vessels to officials set sail. It all went into effect Sunday morning.

“Whatever money I make off this marina is what we live on,” Weiler said. “If I didn’t have this extra money, it would be devastating. I praise the governor.”

The governor is requiring specific social distancing and sanitation measures to be followed.

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Watercraft and fishing rentals are allowed to reopen, but they must follow new guidelines including:

  • Fishing charter companies need to keep customer logs to enable contact tracing when necessary
  • Require that reservations, cancellations, and pre-payments be made via electronic or telephone reservation systems to limit physical interactions
  • Sharing fishing equipment and bait, not allowed
  • Limit capacity onboard the vessel to no more than 10 people
  • Workers must wear gloves at all times on the boats and both workers and passengers must wear a cloth face coverings
  • Food and beverage services are also not allowed
  • Workers will also need to survey passengers before they board the boat to ensure no symptoms

Watercraft rental businesses must adopt policies that include minimum curbside pickup.

The relaxation of the rules comes after a major push by the Recreational Fishing Alliance and the United Boatmen of New Jersey.

The Ocean City Fishing Center has a top knot charter boat that can fit about 65 people.

“Strangers have to be 6 feet apart. That’s drastically reducing the capacity,” Mary Coppolino, the fishing center’s owner, said. “It affects a lot when you’re really trying to cover your costs of a trip.”


Coppolino says her business is normally open by the end of April and she’s been scrambling to get boats ready in time for Memorial Day Weekend. But she says spirits are high.

“We knew things would be wonky so we are hoping for the best,” Coppolino said.

This weekend operating under these social distancing guidelines served as a dry run. The big test comes next week for Memorial Day Weekend.