Federal disaster relief funds to help groundfish fleet



AUGUSTA — Department of Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher announced on Thursday plans to distribute $640,005 to Maine’s groundfish fleet.

This will be the second of three allocations from federal disaster relief money appropriated in response to significant cuts in Gulf of Maine cod quota that led to the declaration of a fishery failure in 2013.

The money will be held by DMR and distributed to Maine groundfish dealers to recover the cost of landings and handling fees that will be waived for groundfish vessels.

“We arrived at this approach after extensive input from industry over the past year,” Keliher said in a statement announcing the distributions. “I have determined that these limited funds are best utilized to ensure that the shoreside infrastructure needed to sustain Maine’s fishing industry now and into the future will see fish coming over the dock, and that Maine fishermen who land their fish in the state are rewarded for helping support that infrastructure.”

The funds are a portion of the $2.3 million allocated to Maine so far from the $75 million appropriated by Congress to help with six fishery disasters nationally, including the disaster declared by the Secretary of Commerce in 2012 as a result of significant quota cuts for key New England groundfish stocks.

“When we met with members of the groundfish industry, one of the things they emphasized was the impact of the current quota reductions on the captains and crew, as well as potential impact to parts of the supply chain once the product is landed,” Keliher said. “By providing funds that allow dealers to waive these fees, we’re eliminating an expense for Maine’s groundfish vessels which will provide immediate benefit to owners and their crew members who are paid after expenses. Our hope is that this will help to help mitigate revenue losses from further quota reductions set to take effect May 1.”

Of the $75 million, $32.8 million was allocated to the Northeast groundfish industry. The allocation of those funds was negotiated among the New England states’ fisheries agency directors and announced in June 2014.

The agreement split the $32.8 million evenly, allocating a third of the funds to each of three areas. Of those funds, $11 million was paid out as direct aid to federal groundfish permit holders in the northeast who landed a minimum of 5,000 lbs of groundfish stocks in any fishing year since 2010. Last October, Maine’s 52 federal groundfish permit holders each received $32,500.

Under an agreed-to formula that considered groundfish revenue losses affecting each state in recent years, Maine received approximately $640,005 of the second $11 million. These funds are being used to support the dealer fee rebate program.

“We sincerely appreciate the hard work put in by the states to reach out to fishing families and communities to understand their needs,” John Bullard, regional administrator for NOAA, said. “The state spending plans reflect this outreach and are tailored to stretch limited federal dollars to have maximum local impact.”

Another $11 million has been held in reserve as negotiations about its use continue.  The funds were originally considered for use as seed money for a federal permit buyback or buyout program.

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