Photo: Maryland DNR

Thousands Petition to Lift Md. Boating Restrictions, State Responds

When Maryland Governor Larry Hogan announced a stay at home order to slow the spread of the deadly novel coronavirus, the state released a document specifying “no recreational boating.”

The rule includes a few exceptions (kayaking and paddle sports are okay because of their exercise value, and boating or fishing to get food for your family is also allowed). But it prohibits the Bay’s many pleasure-boaters, of both the sail and power variety, from getting out on the water.

While the executive order is meant to keep as many people home as possible to flatten the curve of a global pandemic, some boaters feel that Chesapeake Bay boating is an appropriate social distancing activity.

A petition circulating social media calls for the governor to lift the recreational boating ban with the understanding that social distancing rules be followed on board. As of Thursday night, the petition was nearing 11,000 signatures.

A Maryland boater’s petition calls for the ban on recreational boating to be lifted.

“We propose Governor Hogan amend these orders as long as a minimum of 50′ are maintained between vessels and household members only on board. Obviously social distancing restriction will be maintained during travel to and from our vessels. Some of us fish for food despite not being commercial fisherman,” writes Scott Karg, the man who started the petition.

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR), which previously released a detailed “Frequently Asked Questions” document on the stay at home order, reiterated the executive order’s intent on social media Thursday evening:

“The department has been getting many questions and petitions from people looking for ways to avoid the stay at home order, especially when it comes to hunting, boating, and fishing,” the post reads.

DNR goes on to say, “We have consulted with the state’s legal experts on how to interpret the governor’s executive order and the intent is simple: stay home unless you absolutely must leave… Risking unnecessary exposure is not just a hazard for you — it puts law enforcement, emergency responders, seniors and vulnerable populations in danger.”

Some of those questioning the recreational boating ban point to Virginia’s current restrictions. According to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, recreational boating is allowed as long as boaters don’t raft up or visit islands and sandbars. Charter fishing, however, is considered a nonessential business in Virginia, say the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, and charter boats may not operate. In Maryland, on the other hand, charter fishing is considered part of the food supply chain, and defined as essential.

When Bay Bulletin reached out to Governor Hogan’s office about the pushback to Maryland’s boating restrictions, Communications Director Mike Ricci told us, ” As for me, I understand that people are frustrated. I am too. No one wants to be in this situation, but we are, and we have to get through it. What we’re doing right now we’re doing to save lives.”

-Meg Walburn Viviano