As salmon fisheries open across Alaska, the federal mask mandate remains in effect to prevent the spread of Covid. And despite pushback with the Center for Disease Control by Alaska’s policy makers to exempt fishing crews, the rule still stands. Alaska Senator Dan Sullivan in March –

“Senator Murkowski and I have been pressing this relentlessly on a call with the Coast Guard commandant, a call with the White House guy who’s supposedly in charge of all the CDC issues, we had a meeting with the head of the CDC, we are trying to explain to them how, no offense, but just how stupid this is and how uninformed it is. And it could be a safety issue, not with regard to COVID, but with having to wear masks when you’re out on the deck of a ship in 30 foot waves trying to bring in gear or pots. So, we’re going to continue to work on that one.”

The CDC has included fishing vessels with all other forms of public transportation and while it relaxed the rules for fully vaccinated people, fishing crews are not included.

Bristol Bay fisherman Joe Trotter says his crew is vaccinated. He told KDLG in Dillingham the mask requirement is ridiculous.

“If you go into shore, or you go into Dillingham, you go into Naknek, if you go on land somewhere, yeah, OK. But requiring us to have a mask on our fishing boat while we’re fishing? No. That’s ridiculous. I’m not going to have my crew do that. It’s a safety issue, if nothing else.”

Trotter said it’s critical while fishing on a noisy boat to read lips or facial expressions.

At a May Senate hearing, Senator Lisa Murkowski also expressed safety concerns.

“This is more a safety hazard than anything else — you’re out on a boat, the winds are howling, your mask is soggy wet. Tell me how anyone thinks this is a sane and a sound policy.”

Last week Murkowski co-wrote a letter to the CDC and Coast Guard asking them to exempt fishermen from the mask requirement.

Meanwhile the rule remains and not wearing masks could mean restricted access to ports and operations, along with civil or criminal penalties.

The Coast Guard told KDLG last week they will be checking for compliance but won’t deploy separate teams to check for face masks.

 

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