With their regular stream of out-of-state tourists significantly dried up, fishing charter operations are looking to lure Alaskans back onto their boats in hopes of salvaging their season.
Fishing charters are currently allowed to operate at 50% capacity if they take aboard people from different households, and they can fill their boats to the maximum capacity if the entire party lives together. That’s according to the updated health mandates set by the state for phase two of Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s plan to reopen the Alaska economy. With some of the lowest numbers per capita of the COVID-19 disease in the country, Alaska is reopening a little earlier than most states.
Still, strict health and safety requirements paired with the state’s mandatory 14-day self quarantine for anyone visiting Alaska are going to make filling charter boats difficult, according to Ben Martin, president of the Homer Charter Association. So difficult in fact, that Martin has canceled all his online bookings until June. He just wants to wait and see what things will be like later in the summer.
Martin said the safety and sanitation requirements set out in state health mandates are easier for some boats, and maybe a bit harder for others, but overall are mostly doable. Cleaning is pretty easy and captains regularly clean their vessels anyway, he said. Now they’ll just have to do it while out fishing.
One guideline for charters stipulates that passengers and crews should avoid passing fishing rods back and forth, and Martin said that one may be more difficult depending on the layout of the vessel. Keeping at least 6 feet between crew and passengers, and between people who aren’t from the same household, is also easier said than done on the smaller boats, Martin said.
“The social distancing thing is pretty difficult,” he said. “All the boats are pretty different.”
Right now, Martin is only taking “closed” groups, or people who all live together.
While Martin’s online booking is closed, he said people can call them and he decides whether it’s worth the trip after a discussion with them. At this point, he hasn’t found it worth it to take groups where not everyone lives under the same roof.
The last group he took was three people from Eagle River who all lived together. For them, passing rods back and forth wasn’t a problem.
In order to avoid the added burden of some of the social distancing requirements, Martin said he’s just not taking as many people aboard.
“And that means I have to raise my rates a little bit,” he said.
While the safety and cleanliness requirements in the state health mandate can be worked through, Martin said there’s a bigger issue threatening the local charter fishing season.
“The one thing that’s really tough is the 14-day quarantine for people who are coming in,” he said.
This essentially cuts off Alaska’s charter fishing industry to its regular customer base of tourists, unless they have a lengthy trip of longer than two weeks planned. Even then, Martin said he’s not sure who would want to spend two weeks sitting in an Anchorage hotel before they could go fishing.
To address this, charter fishermen are hoping to alter some of the management regulations for their season in order to entice Alaska residents to get out on the water more than they usually do.