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Local charter boat operators frustrated over new boat masking mandate

Published: Feb. 25, 2021 at 9:27 PM CST
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PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - Each spring, Captain Bob Zales preps his charter boat, the Leo Too, for the charter fishing season. The last several years have been challenging, and this year brings a whole new worry.

On February 1, a new law took effect requiring masks on all public maritime vessels to curb the spread of COVID-19. Those vessels include ferries and other high occupancy public vessels, which usually carry dozens of people at a time. But the wording of the law includes charter fishing vessels, which carry far fewer people.

“It’s already impacting business,” Zales said. “You can talk to the people at Captain Anderson’s. They’ve had on their sightseeing boat, already had people cancel because people are saying, ‘I’m sorry, I’m not gonna do that and wear a mask.’ It affects business.”

The new mandate comes at an already rough time for the Panhandle fishing industry, which has taken some major hits over the last several years. After Hurricane Michael in 2018 and now the pandemic, the last thing Zales thinks the industry needs is another hurdle to get over.

“People are reeling, trying to get back up and running again,” Zales said. “Any little thing like this mask mandate that interferes with business is just another impediment to trying to recover.”

The new mandate is set to last for 100 days.

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