April 15, 2020
By Lynn Burkhead
Easter weekend proved to be a stormy one across much of the nation as the COVID-19 crisis continued to cause significant disruption to life across America and the world.
While deadly tornadoes were the story across the South, it was a political storm making waves up north as Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer drew the ire of many for a controversial decision that shut down recreational boating in her state.
In issuing Executive Order No. 2020-42, which went into effect at midnight on April 10, 2020, and remains in effect through April 30, 2020, Whitmer gave only a partial blessing on outdoors recreation continuing in her state.
In part, the order read: "Individuals may leave their home or place of residence, and travel as necessary: To engage in outdoor physical activity, consistent with remaining at least six feet from people from outside the individual's household. Outdoor physical activity includes walking, hiking, running, cycling, kayaking, canoeing, or other similar physical activity, as well as any comparable activity for those with limited mobility."
The Michigan.gov website clarified what that executive order means for the state's boaters in a page dedicated to COVID-19 questions and answers concerning Whitmer's latest decision. It read, in part:
- Q: Does boating constitute "outdoor activity" under the new executive order?
- A: Physical outdoor activity like kayaking, canoeing, and sailing is permitted under the order, but using a motorboat, a jet ski, or other similar watercraft is not. Any outdoor activity permitted under the order, including boating, must be done in a manner consistent with social distancing, and individuals should use only their own equipment to prevent the transmission of the virus through the touching of shared surfaces. Additionally, in accordance with section 2 of the order, persons not part of a single household may not boat together."
Further clarification came from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, which had its own Q&A page concerning the state's most recent executive order issued in response to the COVID-19 pandemic:
- Q: Am I able to use my motor-powered boat for recreational purposes, including fishing?"
- A: No. Under the governor's revised "Stay Home, Stay Safe" Executive Order 2020-42, physical outdoor activity, such as kayaking, canoeing and sailing, remains permissible. However, the use of a motorboat, jet ski or similar watercraft (includes gas and electric motors) is not permitted for the duration of the Executive Order, which is currently set to expire at 11:59 p.m. April 30. Prohibition on the use of motorized watercraft is reflected in the governor's Frequently Asked Questions document that explains and interprets Executive Order 2020-42."
The Michigan DNR website then shed some light on what the reasoning was behind such a controversial decision.
"The DNR has received many reports about heavy use of boat launches across the state and the subsequent congregation of people at these launches in violation of social distancing requirements, and in a manner that threatens public health," read the web page.
"In addition, people who use motorized watercraft typically need to procure secondary services for their craft, such as parts and gasoline, that could unnecessarily increase contact with others and spread disease. The hope is that the prohibition on the use of motorized watercraft will reduce the movement of, and contact among, people with the intent of slowing the spread of the coronavirus.
"Please recreate locally and responsibly. Long distance travel is prohibited unless it is for a purpose considered critical under the governor's "Stay Home, Stay Safe" Executive Order."
Reaction to the boating closure was swift from the Michigan boating community, considered one of the strongest in the nation.
One of those reactions came from Outdoor Sportsman Group television personality Mark Zona, host of Zona's Awesome Fishing Show and a resident of Sturgis, Mich.
In a video posted on Zona's Facebook and Instagram pages, the video began with a statement that read:
"Here is a message from Bass Pro Shops Johnny Morris - The outdoor industry needs to stand strong together during this unprecedented time. As we continue to have the utmost concern for the health and security of our family/friends/front line workers and our nation there is a way to still enjoy the outdoors in a responsible manner with social distancing. Please do your part and help keep our boating and fishing rights open during this tough time."
Morris, the founder and owner of Bass Pro Shops, opened the video with some recorded comments of his own.
"I just think in these rough times, one of the joys we all have is to get outdoors in nature and reconnect with our families and friends," he said from a motor-less aluminum boat as he fished on a small lake with his son J.P. and Labrador retriever Roscoe.
"I woke up this morning with calls from two of my best fishing buddies, KVD, Kevin VanDam, from Michigan, and Mark Zona," Morris continued. "They're very alarmed, and me too, about what's happening in the state of Michigan and in some of the other parts of our country.
"I'm proud to pass along this message from Mark and to stand beside him and all of our other fellow anglers. We all have to stand together for the great outdoors and the great sports of hunting and fishing."
Zona then gave his take on the non-boating executive order, strongly protesting the governor's decision. "You can use kayaks, you can use canoes, but if I want to go fishing alone, or with my dog Zackers, or with my wife, I can't do that," he said. "Number one, that is the most [foolish] thing that I've ever heard on planet Earth, ok? There has not been a lot of good that has come out in the last month, but I've seen fathers, sons, mothers, daughters, out on our lakes."
Zona added he wasn't necessarily asking Michiganders to go out fishing, but instead to contact Whitmer's office in order to voice any displeasure with the ruling. He then provided the Governor's phone number (517-373-3400) and e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org).
As noted above, Michigan is one of the strongest boating states in the country. In fact, in a U.S. Coast Guard recreational boating statistics report from 2018, the Great Lakes State ranked third nationally in terms of recreational vessel registration data.
Specifically, Florida was first with 925,141 registered recreational watercrafts, Minnesota was second with 819,317 such vessels, and Michigan was third with 795,374 recreational boats. Wisconsin (614,750) and Ohio (573,424) rounded out the "Top 5."
As of the time of this writing (April 15, 2020), there had been no recension from the Michigan governor's office concerning the controversial non-boating decision in that state.