All fishermen in U.S. waters must wear masks while they are underway, even while sleeping, and the Coast Guard intends to enforce it.

The order is in place now and fishermen are encouraged to send in comments and questions.

It stems from an edict issued as a public health emergency by the Center for Disease Control in a Marine Safety Bulletin that was issued on Feb. 1. It requires the wearing of masks at all times on fishing vessels “when boarding, disembarking, and for the duration of travel” to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 virus.

The action states that “conveyance operators traveling into or within the U.S. may transport only persons wearing masks and must use best efforts to ensure that masks are worn.”

Best efforts include allowing entry to a vessel only to those who wear masks, instructing persons that failure to comply constitutes a violation of federal law, and removing any person who refuses to comply.

Exceptions to the rule apply while eating or drinking, when communicating with a hearing-impaired person, or if a person is unconscious.

Children under 2 years are exempt, as are persons with a disability who can’t safely wear a mask, or a person for whom wearing a mask would create a risk to workplace health, safety or job duty.

A fisherman who is the only operator aboard also can go maskless.

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National Fisherman editor Jessica Hathaway was the first to break the news last week. She said she was advised by the Coast Guard that fishing vessels are included under the order “at this time.” When she requested further guidance, Hathaway was directed to the CDC.

Hathaway said that  enforcing this rule would certainly be difficult but the Coast Guard clarified to her that the rule will be enforced. She added that “it clearly opens the door for being boarded and fined.”

The mask requirement will remain in effect until it is modified or rescinded based on specific public health or other considerations, or until the Secretary of Health and Human Services rescinds the determination.”

Fishermen and others can submit comments and questions via email at wearamask@uscg.mil/

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