This view of Lake Boca Raton on April 19 gives a small sense of the crowds that usually attend the annual Boca Bash on the state-controlled lake. BELOW: But a week later, FWC and Boca officers found no bash to police. Boaters heeded advice from an organizer and the city and stayed away. Photos by Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star
By Willie Howard
Fishing, diving and boating along the coast of Palm Beach County was tightly restricted for five weeks after Palm Beach County officials closed boat ramps and marinas March 22 to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.
The reason: Many boaters ignored social-distancing guidelines by using their vessels to gather for shoulder-to-shoulder parties at popular raft-up spots such as Lake Boca and the Peanut Island sandbar.
County officials opened marinas and boat ramps April 29 — but with restrictions on boat occupancy and boater behavior.
As of early May, the public health restrictions for recreational boaters included:
• A prohibition on any marine recreational activity that does not comply with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines related to the spread of COVID-19.
• No anchoring of two or more boats within 50 feet of each other.
• No activity that results in a gathering of more than 10 people.
• No beaching, landing or anchoring on open shorelines or sandbars.
• Capacity limits for non-commercial boats. Boats 25 feet or smaller, for instance, are allowed to carry up to four adults, plus two youths age 17 or younger, a maximum of six people.
Joel Cortes, the assistant public works director of Lantana, paints directions on the pavement at the public marina south of Ocean Avenue at the Intracoastal Waterway early on April 29. Pier anglers are required to keep at least 10 feet apart, and only one person at a time can be at the fish-cleaning station. Jerry Lower/The Coastal Star
Other restrictions apply to charter fishing boats, dive boats and other for-hire boats in Palm Beach County.
Charter operators have been told to mark seating locations to maintain a minimum of 6 feet between customers.
Fish-cleaning tables are limited to one person at a time.
The captain, crew and patrons of for-hire boats are to wear protective gear such as face masks and gloves, according to the county’s emergency order.
Dive tanks are to be filled by appointment only and picked up curbside, according to guidelines in the county’s Emergency Order No. 5, signed April 27.
Personal watercraft are limited to one person per vessel — or one adult and one child who is an immediate family member.
Canoes, kayaks and paddleboards are limited to one person unless two people can occupy them and still maintain 6 feet of separation.
At boat ramps, one boat should launch per boat ramp bay at a time to minimize contact with others.
On fishing piers, a distance of 10 feet between anglers must be maintained. Tackle shops and fuel docks are allowed to operate if they follow CDC guidelines.
For details, visit discover.pbcgov.org. Click on “updates” and look for Emergency Order No. 5.
As of early May, group fishing boats (head boats) such as the Lady K in Lantana were operating with restrictions.
The Lady K’s parent company, Bar Jack Fishing, limits trips to 10 anglers to maintain a 6-foot separation between anglers. The ticket price increased to $60 per person from $45. Face masks are encouraged, and anglers are encouraged to bring their own fishing gear.
The Living on Island Time head boat based at Palm Beach Yacht Center in Hypoluxo and the Sea Mist III based at Boynton Harbor Marina were offering fishing trips with the same restrictions: 10 people maximum at a cost of $60 each. Reservations are suggested.
Scuba diver killed off Palm Beach
A Melbourne diver died after being pulled under the boat and trapped March 29 off Palm Beach.
According to a preliminary report by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, Mollie Ghiz-Flynn, 37, was diving from the Southern Comfort dive boat about 1.5 miles south of Palm Beach Inlet. She was pulled under the boat and “trapped by the propeller” while the captain was picking up divers.
Other divers freed Ghiz-Flynn from the propellers, pulled her on board and administered CPR. Firefighters met the boat at Riviera Beach Marina, where they pronounced her dead. The FWC is investigating.
June 13: Saltwater Slam fishing tournament for kingfish, dolphin, wahoo, tuna and cobia. Early entry fee $401.25 through May 29. Call 954-725-4010 or visit www.bluewatermovements.com. Check Bluewater Movements Facebook page for updates on captain’s meeting and weigh-in.
July 11: Big Dog & Fat Cat KDW Shootout fishing tournament is planned, based at Sailfish Marina in Palm Beach Shores. Captain’s meeting July 10 at Sailfish Marina. Entry fee $200 per boat through July 6 or $250 thereafter. Details at www.bigdogfatcat.org.
Postponed: No date had been set (as of early May) for the 26th annual Lantana Fishing Derby. For updates, call 561-585-8664 or visit www.lantanafishingderby.com.
Postponed: The Boca Raton-based nonprofit Marine Education Initiative (formerly Fishing for Families in Need) postponed its Cruise for a Cause fundraiser, originally set for April 4. The new date is Nov. 7. Tickets can be used on the new event date or refunded. For details, go to www.marineinitiative.org.
Canceled: X-Generation Anglers for Soldiers KDW fishing tournament, originally set for May 23. Organizers plan to hold the tournament Memorial Day weekend in 2021. Call 561-577-0706.
Canceled: This year’s Palm Beach County KDW Classic fishing tournament originally set for May 30. The next KDW Classic is set for June 5, 2021. Call 561-832-6780 or visit www.kdwclassic.com.
Canceled: This year’s Crossing for Cystic Fibrosis, the annual Father’s Day fundraising paddle from Bimini to Lake Worth Beach. The next crossing is set for June 19, 2021. Details: www.crossingforcysticfibrosis.com.
Canceled: Palm Beach International Boat Show. A virtual boat show was scheduled for May 14.
Tip of the month
NOAA Fisheries and Salt Water Sportsman magazine have organized a fishing photo contest intended to showcase Americans’ passion for saltwater fishing.
Recreational anglers should submit a photo and the story related to their favorite catches.
Prizes include an expense-paid fishing trip to the Florida Keys.
Enter on Instagram at #NOAAsFavoriteCatch or go to www.saltwatersportsman.com/noaaphotocontest.