The first step in being able to fish for groundfish, like cod and haddock, is having a federal permit, to which an allowable catch, or quota, is assigned. Historically, New England’s many generations of fishermen made their living fishing for groundfish. Stock depletion throughout the 80’s and 90’s forced regulators to reorganize the fishery into a “catch share” system in 2010. Qualifying permit holders were awarded a percentage ownership right in the fishery based on their landings from 1996 – 2006. Since eastern Maine fishermen had switched to more profitable fisheries by the early 90’s, many were issued permits that had little to no quota on them.
Every year since the implementation of catch shares, the fishery has consolidated into fewer hands. Low value permits are either dissolved or stacked on top of other permits in order to make a viable business. To reconcile this, Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries established a Permit Bank in 2009 so that local fishermen in coastal communities will have access to the resource as groundfish stocks recover.
The Permit Bank, together with the Northeast Coastal Communities Sector offers small scale fishermen access rights to a fishery that may offer an opportunity to diversify in the years ahead.