DNR Clarifies State Order Forbids Recreational Boating

DNR Clarifies State Order Forbids Recreational Boating
Sunset Marina in West Ocean City is pictured. File photo by Chris Parypa

OCEAN CITY — With the arrival of April and a typical increase in recreational boating and fishing season around the area, state officials this week clarified just what is allowed and what is not under the governor’s stay-at-home directives.

Gov. Larry Hogan on Monday stepped up the state’s response to the growing COVID-19 pandemic with an enhanced stay-at-home directive, essentially saying no Marylander should leave their home unless except for going to work at an essential job or to seek food and other needed supplies or medical attention. While the order does allow for outdoor exercise and recreation, in all cases individuals should adhere to the governor’s directives including maintaining a six-foot distance from others and avoiding groups of 10 or more.

Many questioned just what those orders mean for recreational fishing and boating. On the one hand, the governor’s directives allow for and even encourage exercise and outdoor activity on a limited basis for health and mental well-being during the crisis. On the other hand, the orders limit the types of activity allowed out on the water. In simplest terms, recreational and commercial fishing are allowed as long as the other directives are observed, but recreational boating is not, according to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

“Under the executive order, no Marylander should leave their home except for an essential reason,” the DNR statement reads. “Therefore, recreational boating is not allowed. Subsistence hunting and fishing — limited hunting and limited recreational fishing and crabbing for sustenance — can continue. However, social distancing must be adhered to strictly. No permits for fishing tournaments will be issued by the department until further notice. Commercial fishing is deemed essential and may continue since it is part of the food supply change.”

Although the directives seem as clear as the muddy bottom of most state waterways, the bottom line appears to be a handful of people- a handful of people including a couple of neighbor or friends should or a father and a couple of kids should not go out on a boat for a joy ride and some fresh air on the water without at least wetting a line and attempting to catch a fish or some crabs for sustenance.

“Recreational boating is prohibited until the governor lifts the executive order or until the state of emergency has ended,” the DNR’s explanation of the directives reads. “However, if an individual is boating to seek food for themselves or their family, boating is permitted. Social distancing guidelines and the prohibition on social gatherings must be strictly followed.”

Other forms of recreation on the water are allowed under the directives because they are generally individual activities, according to the DNR directives.

“Since kayaking and paddle boarding are a form of exercise, they are permitted under the executive order,” the DNR guidelines read. “However, guidance on social distancing and the prohibition on social gathering must be strictly followed.”

Charter boats are basically allowed because they fall under the fishing for sustenance category, but again the same social distancing rules apply.

“As part of the food supply chain, charter boats can continue to operate, but must abide by social distancing guidelines and the prohibition on gatherings of more than 10 individual on the vessel at any time.”

In a nut shell, recreational boating is not allowed under the governor’s directives, but if one is at least attempting to catch fish or crabs, for example, the directives will not be enforced. The Maryland Natural Resources Police is the enforcement body out on state waters in and around the local area.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.