The first step in being able to fish is having a federal permit, to which an allowable catch, or quota, is assigned. Although stocks are currently so depleted in eastern Maine that even a part-time hook fishery is not viable, access rights — through buying permits that hold quota — must be acquired. Otherwise, consolidation will permanently exclude eastern Maine fishermen from ever participating. To avert this, Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries has established a permit bank, currently holding two permits, so that local fishermen will have access to the resource as the stocks recover.
In 2009, Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries purchased a permit from local fisherman Vic Levesque. Vic owned the Thunder Bay, a 54 foot steel dragger that he built himself at his shop in Trenton, Maine. In retirement and no longer using the boat due to the lack of fish, the only available buyers for his groundfish permit were in ports to the south, particularly in Massachusetts.
Vic’s predicament was typical of the out-migration of fishing rights from eastern Maine. First, fishermen couldn’t make a living fishing because the stocks were down. Next, fishermen lost access – often because managers allocated future access based on those years when there were no fish to catch, and thus eastern Maine’s fishermen were cut out of future access. For those permits that did retain access, fishermen like Vic had no local buyers, so they sold their permits out of state. Now, we’re heading toward a future where we may once again see abundant fish stocks but the access rights may only be granted to big, out-of-town draggers to fish off our coastline while local fishermen are locked out.
Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries’ 2009 purchase was the beginning of a pilot permit bank aimed at reversing the trend. We want to ensure that future fishermen of eastern Maine have access to catch the fish stocks that recover in our region.