Waterman Docks Boat

A waterman docks his boat during the Dorchester Chamber of Commerce Boat Docking event on June 16, 2018, at Long Wharf Park. in Cambridge.

CAMBRIDGE — Dorchester County watermen and the Eastern Shore’s congressman are opposed to a requirement to wear masks on commercial fishing vessels.

U.S. Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md.-1st, spoke out Friday, Feb. 12, against the Biden Administration’s Executive Order 13998, which requires the wearing of masks on all federal and federally regulated transportation vehicles and vessels to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“While appropriate on some modes of transportation where social distancing with strangers cannot be maintained, this mandate is overly broad and leading to unforeseen frustration,” Harris said.

He said the Coast Guard announced they will enforce this mandate that all commercial fishing vessel occupants will be required to wear masks.

“Our watermen are completely outdoors, often numbering no more than three per vessel, and have been working together without interruption since the beginning of this pandemic — they are at extremely low-risk by the nature of their work,” Harris said.

Petty Officer Gino Fiori, duty officer at Coast Guard Station Oxford, said that as of Monday, Feb. 15, the station had not received any guidance about a mask mandate for watermen.

Cambridge waterman Scott Todd said he believes COVID is a serious issue, but he is doubtful about about whether a mask precaution would work. Todd said when he first heard about the possibility, he was incredulous: “I thought to myself, ‘You’ve got to be kidding.’ I don’t know how we could do this kind of work with a mask.”

“I respect the idea of trying to keep distance between people,” Todd said. He is confident that reasonable precautions can work, “as long as we’re not licking each other’s fingers.”

Elliott Island waterman Wylie Abbott Jr. said he too understands reasonable precautions, especially for larger vessels with bigger crews.

“As far as us down here, it’s absolutely ridiculous,” Abbott said. “I don’t know how you’re going to wear a mask (while working). I don’t know how they are going to enforce it.”

Abbott said he had not yet been informed about any mandate.

Dorchester waterman Jeremiah Abbott works on the water in the Little Choptank River. Abbott said he does not like the mandate and does not not intend to follow it.

Harris urged the CDC to clarify the mandate, which he said lacks legitimate scientific backing for small craft fishing vessels with minimal persons working onboard in an outdoor environment.

“Rather than being the Biden mask police for a low-transmission industry, the Coast Guard should be spending their valuable time doing their core duties, especially drug enforcement,” Harris said.

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