Patrick-Murray Administration Launching Loan Fund for Commercial Fishermen
Agreement Approved by State and Federal Fisheries Agencies Will Authorize $1 Million in Federal Funds for Loans to Massachusetts' Commercial Fishermen
BOSTON – Tuesday, January 31, 2012 – The Patrick-Murray Administration today announced that Massachusetts is creating a new Commercial Fisheries Revolving Loan Fund (RLF) – the first of its kind in New England – designed to help bridge the gap for commercial fishermen as they transition to the new sector management program for groundfish.
“Massachusetts has a proud tradition of commercial fishing, and these direct loans will help preserve the economic viability of our fishing ports and communities,” said Governor Deval Patrick. “I thank NOAA and the National Marine Fisheries Service for these funds to help ease this transition.”
In May 2011, as an alternative to developing a federally-funded, state-operated groundfish permit bank, the state’s Department of Fish and Game’s (DFG) Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) proposed that NOAA Fisheries authorize the use of $1 million in federal funds for a revolving short-term loan program designed to provide economic assistance to owner-operated fishing businesses attempting to lease additional groundfish quota.
“State fisheries managers, industry members and local lending institutions deserve credit for teaming up to produce an effective solution for the very real impacts being felt by fishermen and our fishing communities during implementation of catch share programs in New England,” said Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Richard K. Sullivan Jr., whose office includes DFG.
Once the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) approved a revised grant proposal, DMF and NMFS worked out a Memorandum of Agreement authorizing the revolving loan fund.
“By leveraging available funds through a revolving loan fund, this new program will maximize fishing opportunity for those who need assistance during this difficult transition period and provide business planning assistance for the future,” DFG Commissioner Mary Griffin added.
Last year, Massachusetts groundfishermen moved away from a Days-at-Sea system to a system where, upon enrollment, they were allocated individual shares of various groundfish stocks that they could fish in a sector – an area shared by a group of three or more fellow groundfishermen. Part of the new market-based program enables fishermen, through their sectors, to conduct their businesses through the sale and lease of quota on an open market.
“While neighboring states have developed permit banks to help preserve access to fishing communities, the Commonwealth felt strongly that a revolving loan fund would best position fishermen struggling to enter the new quota market place,” said DMF Director Paul Diodati. “The RLF doesn’t just respond to the immediate crisis fishermen face, but will provide business planning to support small fishing businesses’ long-term sustainability.”
Various influences of the new sector system have disproportionately impacted smaller-scale groundfishermen – generally owner-operator fishing businesses that conduct dayboat fishing near shore. This traditional component of the New England groundfish fleet has less access to capital from traditional sources than do larger operations and often do not have meaningful economies of scale available to cut operating costs. This is proving problematic in a system that is geared toward economic efficiency, with few ways for ensuring the continuation of a diverse groundfish fleet.
“Every dollar of economic assistance matters to fishermen who have been hanging on by their fingernails. This revolving loan fund is a no-brainer," said Senator John Kerry. "Access to capital has been very difficult and this fund is another tool in our toolbox to help keep small boat fishermen in business.”
“I’m glad there will be additional support for Massachusetts fishermen struggling to survive under catch-share management," said Senator Scott Brown. "I am committed to holding NOAA accountable for their regulations and ensuring that our fishermen have a fair management system based on sound science.”
“I applaud the efforts of Governor Patrick and Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries Director Paul Diodati to establish this critical fund,” said Congressman Bill Keating. “With this sole initiative, we will address one of the most urgent issues facing the Commonwealth’s single vessel commercial fishermen today: inadequate access to capital. The added assistance from the Commercial Fisheries Revolving Loan Fund will allow these small businesses to have a fighting chance at profitability in the 2012 fishing season.”
“All along the New England coast, but especially in Massachusetts, fishermen have been struggling through a difficult transition into the new catch shares system,” said Congressman John Tierney. "Notwithstanding serious concerns with the catch shares system and its implementation, to the extent it remains in effect, the more resources and capital we can make available to our local industry, especially the small fishermen this new revolving loan fund is targeted to help, the better. I’m glad the Governor is moving forward on making this resource available."
“I commend Governor Patrick and his team at DMF for reaching out to fishing industry representatives during development of the RLF," said Frank Mirarchi of the Northeast Seafood Coalition. "I am confident this program, supported by fishermen’s input, will truly provide a benefit to groundfishermen struggling through the transition to catch shares.”
The Commonwealth is currently soliciting loan administration partners and will provide updated information on the RLF program and where eligible fishermen may go in their communities to apply for loan funds, with the goal of making loan funds available to eligible fishing businesses for the upcoming spring fishery. Additional information on the RLF program is available on the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ Division of Marine Fisheries website at: www.mass.gov/marinefisheries.
The Department of Fish and Game (DFG) is responsible for promoting the conservation and enjoyment of the Commonwealth's natural resources. DFG carries out this mission through land protection and wildlife habitat management, management of inland and marine fish and wildlife species, and ecological restoration of fresh water, salt water, and terrestrial habitats. DFG promotes enjoyment of the Massachusetts environment through outdoor skills workshops, fishing festivals and other educational programs, and by enhancing access to the Commonwealth's rivers, lakes, and coastal waters.