FREEHOLD, NJ — While limits have been lifted on the number of passengers permitted on charter and party boats, six-foot social distancing must still be maintained — news that was welcomed by Rep. Chris Smith, who represents several popular Jersey Shore fishing communities, including Belmar.

“This could not have come a moment too soon.  While overdue, this is still great news,” said Rep. Smith, (R-4th District), regarding the loosening of the restrictions, which took effect on June 14. 

“This decision does not allow the boats to run at full capacity due to social distancing requirements, but it will allow those in the fishing industry to earn a living and feed their families,” said the congressman, who has been pushing for the “healthy, safe and economically sound reopening of the Jersey Shore fishing boat industry.”

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The coronavirus crisis has been especially hard for the fishing charters and party boats, many of which operate for only eight to 10 months a year. Losing the months of March, April, May and half of June has been financially devastating, according to Smith's press release.

“Unfortunately, anglers have missed the beginning of fluke season, but the original relief of 25 passengers and now the unlimited access, gives this critical industry, as well as the related businesses such as bait and tackle shops, a fighting chance to recover more quickly and fully,” Smith said.

On May 16, Gov. Phil Murphy signed an executive order allowing up to 10 total passengers on fishing charters, including party boats.  However, sailing with less than a dozen paying passengers was not economically viable for the party boats, some of which can hold more 100 passengers.  On May 22 — the opening day of fluke season — the number of passengers was raised from 10 to 25. 

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