Credit: Sean Galusha | Mustang News

For companies offering various fishing charters and excursions based out of Morro Bay, COVID-19 restrictions meant having to shut down from March 15 to May 30, according to John Fox at Patriot Sportfishing at Morro Bay Landing.

Fox is in charge of booking excursions, which range from sportfishing and whale watching to private charters and kayak rentals. Since their reopening, they’ve resumed excursions with reduced capacity on all of their 11 boats. 

“We just cross our fingers that they don’t shut us down if the numbers start getting bigger again,” Fox said. “That’s our biggest concern.” 

Fox said that the Harbor Patrol and Coast Guard enforced the closure and then assisted in the reopening process by providing new capacity limits and social distancing policies for the boats. With these precautions, Fox said he’s not worried about any risks of resuming business and they just hope to continue booking excursions. 

Passengers on their boats have to maintain six feet distance from each other and wear masks unless they’re eating, Fox said. 

“If they don’t want to follow the rules, they don’t have to go fishing with us,” he said. 

Social distancing rules are put in place by the Harbor Patrol in Morro Bay since they manage a large portion of the waterfront. Eric Endersby is the harbor director for Morro Bay, and he said that implementing the rules for fishing charters, like those going out of Morro Bay Landing, has been an informative experience.

“It’s been a challenge. Mostly it’s been an educational challenge,” Endersby said. “The challenge for us is largely communication and education, and letting people know what the changing landscape is as it changes.” 

Harbor Patrol manages the area of the waterfront down Embarcadero, which includes 30 leases and around 90 businesses. Since the reopening of about five of the major fishing charter companies at the end of May, Harbor Patrol has included communicating social distancing rules for fishing boats along with their usual code enforcement and boater assistance.

Parks, recreation and tourism administration junior Dane Morris has gone on two separate fishing charters since the beginning of COVID-19, and he said he appreciates the precautions fishing charters and harbor officials are taking that allow him to continue fishing.

“I wasn’t really sure what my experience was going to look like going into charter fishing during COVID-19, but I was pleasantly surprised,” Morris said. “I wasn’t expecting the deckhands to be as concerned with COVID, but they were, which was great because they want to keep fishing also.”

Morris’s most recent fishing trip was a full day trip out of Fisherman’s Landing in San Diego Harbor. Because boats are at half of their usual capacity, Morris said he has more space to cast his lines. Previously, fishing charters would involve being side by side with other people fishing against the rails of the boat. Now, everyone is at least six feet away from each other at all times.

“It made a nice environment for me to go fishing and I felt safe and had a good time doing it, so that’s what it’s all about,” Morris said. “It makes me want to keep going back.”

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