AUGUSTA — The Department of Marine Resources will soon be making the third and final payment of federal disaster relief funds to 32 eligible Maine-based fishermen who hold federal Northeast Multispecies (groundfish) permits. The payment will total $1.02 million.
To qualify, Maine groundfish permit holders must have landings of more than 5,000 pounds in any one fishing year from 2010-2013. In addition, permit holders must have landed a minimum of 5,000 pounds of groundfish in either fishing year 2013 or 2014. Fishing years run from May 1 to April 30.
“The intent of these criteria is to focus disaster relief efforts on permit holders who have historical dependence on groundfish and have had continued reliance on the groundfish fishery during the disaster years,” DMR Deputy Commissioner Meredith Mendelson said recently.
According to Meldelson, the department understands that the Maine groundfish industry saw declines in many years preceding the disaster declaration by the secretary of commerce. The declaration was made based on what were, at the time, prospective revenue losses from the major reduction in Gulf of Maine cod quota available for the 2013 fishing year. DMR’s allocation of relief funds reflects the impact of that specific reduction.
The payments allocated to eligible permit holders were based on a formula developed by DMR after several outreach meetings with industry. Those payments, ranging from approximately $9,100 to $44,044, will reflect landings in fishing years 2013 and 2014 individually and combined.
Not everyone is satisfied with how the funds will be allocated. Robin Alden, a former DMR commissioner and founder of the Penobscot East Resource Center in Stonington, said last week that at least some of those funds should have been allocated to Maine’s three groundfish sectors, which manage federally imposed catch limits among their members. The sectors might then have used some of the funds to help fishermen defray the cost of carrying federal fishery observers on board or for “permit banking,” a system under which sectors might buy groundfish permits and the catch quotas that go with them so young fishermen who want to enter the groundfish industry could lease quota at a reasonable cost.
The funds are a portion of the $3.3 million allocated to Maine from the $75 million appropriated by Congress to help buffer the effects of six fishery disasters, including the disaster declared in 2012 by the secretary of commerce as a result of significant quota cuts for key New England groundfish stocks.
Of the $75 million, the Northeast groundfish industry received an allocation of $32.8 million. The allocation of the disaster relief funds was negotiated among New England state fisheries agency directors and announced in June, 2014.
The agreement split the $32.8 million evenly, allocating one-third of the funds to each of three areas, with $11 million paid out as direct aid to permit holders in the Northeast who landed a minimum of 5,000 pounds of groundfish stocks in any one fishing year since 2010.
In October 2014, fifty-two of Maine’s federal groundfish permit holders each received $32,500. Last year, DMR distributed $640,005 to help Maine’s groundfish fleet and related shoreside industries by rebating dealer landings and handling fees.