Following federal changes to masking guidelines for fully vaccinated citizens, issued on May 13, Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) submitted a letter to the Coast Guard and the Centers for Disease Control requesting a revisit and possible revision of federal masking mandates for commercial fishing vessels.

“We encourage the CDC — in partnership with the U.S. Coast Guard — to revisit mask-wearing requirements specific to workers in the commercial fishing industry,” the May 25 letter states.

The requirement, issued by the Coast Guard on Feb. 1 and confirmed on March 22, caused widespread confusion in the industry, as commercial fishing vessels were lumped in with the public and commercial transportation sector.

The Code of Federal Regulations makes clear distinctions between the two, but those were specifically bypassed by the Coast Guard’s interpretation of the CDC’s masking requirement.

As a result, federal leaders have since been working on behalf of the fishing industry to get clarification and revisions to the mandate that make room for safe operations on fishing vessels.

The biggest loophole to the existing regulations is that all fishing vessels are allowed to stipulate what activities onboard would be unsafe while masked (though crew members are required to carry masks for safe operations that are not covered by the vessel’s exemptions, including Coast Guard boarding). One captain offered NF a copy of their exemptions.

Jessica Hathaway is the editor in chief of National Fisherman. She has been covering the fishing industry for 16 years, serves on the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute's Communications Committee and is a National Fisheries Conservation Center board member.

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