Jun. 14—The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has revised their guidance requiring people to wear masks on commercial fishing boats, saying fully vaccinated fishermen no longer need to wear a mask outdoors on their boats or at a transportation hub.
The new guidance went into effect Friday.
The CDC issued a federal order on Jan. 29 requiring all persons to wear masks on all public transportation "conveyances" and transportation hubs to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The agency's website subsequently detailed that the mask order applies to anyone traveling on "commercial maritime vessels," including fishing vessels with public transportation like cargo ships, ferries, river cruise ships and charter fishing trips.
Many in the commercial fishing industry, including Linda Hunt, general manager of the 75-member Yankee Fishermen's Cooperative in Seabrook, criticized the guidance, calling it "dangerous."
"You're talking about the safety of people," Hunt told a Union Leader reporter in May.
According to Hunt, fishing boats have loud diesel motors that make it difficult for crew members to hear one another when they are operating. Crew members frequently rely on lip-reading to work together safely, she said.
Crews risked being ticketed if they were inspected by the U.S. Coast Guard and found not to be wearing masks, Hunt said.
The updated guidance came after Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH) and Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) requested the agencies loosen restrictions for fully vaccinated commercial fishermen after hearing concerns from fishermen in their states.
"I am glad that the CDC and Coast Guard heeded our bipartisan call to remove the unnecessary mask requirement for fully vaccinated commercial fishermen," Hassan said in a statement.
"I want to thank New Hampshire's fishermen for their successful advocacy to remove this outdated requirement and for speaking out about the challenges they face. This updated guidance is welcome news for fishermen in New Hampshire and across the country, and I urge the CDC and Coast Guard to continue to update guidance based on the science."
At a Senate hearing on the federal government's COVID-19 response, Hassan asked CDC Director Rochelle Walensky to get new guidance out for fishermen as quickly as possible.
"Not only is a wet mask dangerous out on the open water, but because of the noise — both the wind and the equipment — these guys are used to relying on kind of sign language on the boat, and with the mask on, they really can't. And it's a real safety issue," she said.
Murkowski said the mandate is "a safety hazard" for fishermen in her state. "You're out on a boat, the winds are howling, your masks are soggy wet," she said.
"Tell me how anybody thinks this is a sane and a sound policy," she said.