Maine fishing bill seeks access for big boats

AUGUSTA – A state-run permitting program that helps Maine’s long-ailing groundfishing industry should be open to boats of all sizes, supporters of a bill to expand a so-called permit bank said Wednesday.

L.D. 939, sponsored by Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland, would allocate $3.5 million in state money annually to the Maine Groundfish Permit Bank, established in 2010 with federal money administered by the Maine Department of Marine Resources.

At a public hearing Wednesday before the Legislature’s Marine Resources Committee, the bill faced no opposition. Some in the groundfish industry and the Maine Lobstermen’s Association testified in support of it.

Alfond said his bill “will have real economic benefit by creating a mechanism to provide Maine fishermen access to additional groundfishing quota at affordable rates.”

Under the program, the state auctions off shares of its allotted annual catch of groundfish — 14 fish species including cod, haddock and halibut — to high bidders, which include the Penobscot East Resource Center in Stonington and the Nature Conservancy. Those entities lease permits at affordable rates to small-scale fishermen.

Under a federal agreement with Maine, permits go only to operators of vessels as long as 45 feet based in communities with populations of 30,000 or less, allowing more access to fish than they would otherwise have.

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