Just wondered if anyone in the area had an opinion on this buyback plan, pros and cons? This was published yesterday in the Gloucester Daily times.

Maine fishermen split over boat buyback plan

Associated Press

— PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Maine fishermen remain at odds over whether to develop a $100 million buyout plan designed to assist New England's struggling groundfishing industry.

Owners of large, Portland-based draggers back the idea of reducing the fleet's fishing capacity by at least 25 percent by paying cash to fishermen who agree to surrender their fishing permits and destroy their boats.

Maine fishermen who operate smaller boats closer to shore are skeptical, fearing that a buyout would shrink the fleet too much and make it impossible to support onshore infrastructure, such as the Portland Fish Exchange and the state's last two ice suppliers.
Under the plan, the federal government would lend the money to buy out permits, while those who continue to fish would cover the loan by paying 4 percent of the value of the fish they catch for 30 years.

Fishermen discussed the plan with U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, who are waiting for the industry to reach a consensus before submitting legislation. Likewise, Commissioner George Lapointe of the Maine Department of Marine Resources said he is reluctant to lend his endorsement until fishermen come to terms.

"I would hope that the industry members get together and help us work through the ins and outs of this," said Lapointe, who wants the two sides to keep talking.

As the federal government has imposed restrictions intended to rebuild fish stocks in the region, groundfish revenue has declined about 30 percent between 2001 and 2005 and the number of days that the average fishing boat is allowed to fish has dropped to only 43 a year.

The government has taken part in previous buybacks designed to reduce the size of the fishing fleet and improve the survival prospects of those who remain in the business.

In the mid-1990s, the government spent $24 million to buy 79 boats, but a study later found that most of the sellers used the money to buy new boats and re-enter the business. In 2002, 52 Maine fishermen sold their groundfishing permits as part of a $10 million federal buyout.

The current plan is modeled after a 2003 industry-funded program approved by Congress that permanently retired 91 vessels on the West Coast.

A November 2006 referendum on a buyout was approved by 73 percent of New England fishermen, but industry leaders did not move a plan forward at that time. Associated Fisheries of Maine, a trade group that represents 35 fishing vessels and a dozen other shore-based businesses, has been working on the issue in the interim.

While the new effort has yet to gain much attention outside Maine, Jackie Odell, executive director of the Gloucester, Mass.-based Northeast Seafood Coalition, said the atmosphere in Congress has improved and it has a better chance for success.

"It needs to be considered," she said. "This is a different time, and we have different realities in front of us."