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Groundfish Disaster Economic Assistance Program

The Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) is distributing federal disaster funds to the Commonwealth's groundfish community. Federal aid stems from a 2012 disaster declaration in the groundfish fishery.

On May 28, 2014 the state fishery directors from Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut and New York, in partnership with NOAA, announced a framework for the distribution of $32.8 in federal disaster aid monies to the New England groundfish industry (joint press release). In the consensus framework, the six states will apportion available monies between three themes (roughly $11 million in each): one-third to be used for direct assistance, one-third to be split among the states and used at their discretion, and one-third to be used in developing a federally funded buyout or industry-funded buyback.

Federal disaster aid stems from a September 13, 2012 disaster declaration in the Northeast multispecies (groundfish) fishery by the Acting Secretary of Commerce. The disaster designation was requested by the Commonwealth recognizing the severe hardships being faced by commercial fishermen – hardships being felt well before the official May 1, 2013 federal designation (see related reports)

Although based on severe catch limit reductions that were implemented due to declining stock status, the Secretary of Commerce noted fishermen had adhered to catch limits. NOAA Fisheries’ own data and research have indicated that an environmental regime shift has occurred and is on-going, suggesting additional factors leading to stock declines.

Since the declaration, fisheries managers, scientists and fishermen all continue to struggle to understand the causes of the crises facing groundfish populations, fishing families and our port communities. It’s becoming increasingly clear that multiple factors including, the environment, changing resource conditions, low catch limits, permit/quota market inefficiencies, lack of alternative fishing opportunities, and fleet capacity all contribute to the current state of the New England groundfish industry. The Commonwealth, therefore, has turned to a wide-range of themes in crafting ways to stabilize Massachusetts groundfish businesses thereby safeguarding the state’s communities and local economies built upon this historic fishery.

Planning process

Excluding the $11-million set-aside for regional consideration of a future vessel buyout/buyback, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts received $14.6-million: $6.3-million in direct subsidies to pre-identified active commercial groundfishermen and $8.3-million for consideration of additional assistance strategies in a state program. The latter was developed by DMF through a public and transparent process that has aimed to be as timely and sensible as practicable.

An Industry-based Working Group met twice in the summer of 2014 to assist in developing proposed spending strategies. DMF vetted these strategies through a series of public meetings held in coastal towns throughout Massachusetts during July 2014. To assist the public in providing comments, DMF prepared a public information document with assistance from an Industry-based Steering Committee. 

DMF presented a revised spending plan to the Working Group in September 2014. After revising some aspects of the proposal, the Working Group strongly endorsed by consensus the state’s proposed spending plan, recognizing some details would require further development by DMF.

Additional Resources

Phase 1

In Phase 1 of the Disaster Aid Program, the Commonwealth received $6.3-million to distribute as direct subsidies to limited access multispecies permit holders pre-qualified by NMFS based on their landing history of at least 5,000-lbs. of groundfish in any one of the past four fishing years (FY2010-FY2013).

On August 4, 2014 NMFS mailed letters to federal limited access multispecies permit holders notifying them whether or not they were found eligible by NMFS for direct assistance in Phase 1. Those interested in reviewing their permit data may submit a landings history request to NMFS. On August 6, 2014 permit holders pre-qualified by NMFS were sent a letter and vendor forms by the Commonwealth to enable payment processing.

Additional Resources

Phase 2 Overview

As part of the greater $32.8-million federal groundfish disaster aid package, NMFS has allocated $8.3-million to the Commonwealth based on a pre-determined homeport formula. 

On October 24, 2014 DMF submitted a final grant application to NMFS for approval of Phase 2 funding. DMF will utilize this state specific program to mitigate impacts to additional components of the Massachusetts groundfish fishery. Funds were utilized to provide aid to:

  • federal and state groundfishermen not addressed in Phase 1
  • crew members
  • shoreside businesses
  • groundfish sectors

On February 5, 2015 NMFS approved the Commonwealth’s grant. Subsequently, DMF began work to implement the Phase 2 Disaster Aid Program beginning with qualified permit holders.

Phase 2: Permit Holders

The following is a list of groundfish permit categories that may qualify for a flat rate of Phase 2 financial disaster assistance:

  • federal limited access multispecies permit holders who landed at least 5,000-lbs. of groundfish in FY2009;
  • federal limited access multispecies permit holders who landed at least 3,000-lbs. of groundfish in any one year from FY2010-FY2013 (a reduced flat rate compared to the limited access permit holders who landed 5,000-lbs.); 
  • Massachusetts State Waters Groundfish Endorsement (GE) permit holders who landed at least 5,000-lbs. of groundfish in any one year from FY2009-FY2013;
  • Massachusetts State Waters Groundfish Endorsement (GE) permit holders who landed at least 3,000-lbs. of groundfish in any one year from FY2010-FY2013 (a reduced flat rate compared to the GE permit holders who landed 5,000-lbs.);
  • For-hire groundfish permit holders who had at least 50 trips in the Gulf of Maine with at least one (1) cod, pollock or haddock per trip in any one year from FY2010-FY2013; and
  • For-hire groundfish permit holders who had at least 30 trips but less than 50 in the Gulf of Maine with at least one (1) cod, pollock or haddock per trip in any one year from FY2010-FY2013 (a reduced flat rate compared to for-hire permit holders with at least 50 trips).

DMF mailed a February 6, 2015 notification of the Phase 2 grant program to all federal multispecies limited access permit holders homeported in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts as of April 30, 2014 and all 2014 Massachusetts permit holders with a groundfish endorsement (GE) or for-hire permit. Prequalified federal, state and for-hire permit holders received an additional, concurrent letter notifying them of their eligibility for a Phase 2 payment.

DMF developed a program cap for Phase 2 which will reduce the payment of any single entity that already received a payment in Phase 1. Further details on the cap policy can be found in the above-linked qualification letter.

Anyone who did not receive a qualification letter and/or believe there is a technical error in the landings data or single entity information used to qualify your permit, may submit a written appeal to MA DMF postmarked no later than February 20, 2015. Any appeals should be directed to Samantha Andrews at 251 Causeway St., Suite 400, Boston, MA 02114 or by dated email at Samantha.n.andrews@state.ma.us

Based upon a review of appeals, DMF implemented a second, lower tier eligibility criteria for 2014 state waters Groundfish Endorsement (GE) permit holders, consistent with the tiers used to qualify federal limited-access multispecies permit holders. GE permit holders that landed at least 3,000-lbs. (but less than 5,000-lbs.) in any one year during FY2010 to FY2013 are now eligible for a lower tier payment. DMF mailed a March 6, 2015 notification to 2014 GE permit holders who did not qualify and a concurrent mailing to those prequalified GE permit holders.

2014 GE permit holders who believed there is a technical error in the landings data or single entity information used to qualify your permit, may submit a written appeal of the GE lower tier pre-qualification to MA DMF postmarked no later than March 20, 2015. Any appeals should be directed to Samantha Andrews at 251 Causeway St., Suite 400, Boston, MA 02114 or by dated email at Samantha.n.andrews@state.ma.us

On February 26, 2015 MA DMF notified federal and for-hire permit holders of their final qualification. State permit holders were notified on March 24, 2015 after the second appeals period concluded. Permit holders additionally were requested to fill out forms to make them a vendor in the state system; a vendor workshop was held on Friday, March 6, 2015.

Phase 2: Crew Members

On March 10, 2015, DMF sent a direct mailing with application details to crew members who previously had provided their contact information to DMF either directly or through the Massachusetts Fishermen’s Partnership, The deadline was April 24, 2015. Applications must have been received by DMF as of or postmarked by April 24, 2015. Applications must be hand-delivered or mailed to DMF, c/o Samantha Andrews at 251 Causeway St., Suite 400, Boston, MA 02114.

DMF hosted three workshops in Gloucester, New Bedford, and Chatham to assist crew members in filling out the applications. Portuguese translation services were available at the New Bedford workshop. A copy of the application is available in Portuguese.  

On May 19, 2015, after a review of all applications and supporting documentation, DMF notified applicants in writing as to whether they were pre-qualified or not to receive disaster aid as a commercial crew member (pre-qualification, non pre-qualification), for-hire crew member (pre-qualificationnon pre-qualification), or lumper/longshoreman (pre-qualificationnon pre-qualification), To pre-qualify for a given flat rate in a given year, crew members must have met the following eligibility criteria:

Higher Flat Rate
    Non-owner/operator crew members who:
        1) worked aboard a qualified commercial or for-hire groundfish vessel,
        2) documented at least $5,000 in annual income was generated from eligible commercial or for-hire fishing activity; and
        3) documented that at least 50% of total annual income was generated from eligible commercial or for-hire fishing activity.

    Lumpers/Longshoremen who:
        1) Were paid by a qualified commercial groundfish vessel,
        2) documented at least $5,000 in annual income was generated from eligible commercial fishing activity; and
        3) documented that at least 50% of total annual income was generated from eligible commercial fishing activity.

Lower Flat Rate
    Owner/operators who:
        1) worked aboard a qualified commercial or for-hire groundfish vessel;
        2) documented at least $5,000 in annual income was generated from eligible commercial or for-hire fishing activity; and
        3) documented that at least 50% of total annual income was generated from eligible commercial or for-hire fishing activity.

A qualified commercial groundfish vessel is one that was qualified to receive 2012 groundfish disaster aid, was homeported in MA and documented landings of at least 3,000-lbs. (commercial) or 30 trips (for-hire), the minimum disaster aid qualification in MA for a commercial groundfish vessel, in each year for which a crew member applied for aid. Commercial crew members are eligible to apply for aid during 2009-2013 and for-hire crew members are eligible to apply for aid during 2010-2013.

Applicants that believe there was a technical error in the pre-qualification data, may submit a written appeal to MA DMF postmarked no later than Wednesday, June 3, 2015. Any appeals should be directed to Samantha Andrews at 251 Causeway St., Suite 400 Boston, MA 02114 or by dated email at Samantha.n.andrews@state.ma.us.

Following a review of all appeals, DMF notified applicants of their final qualification status and payment amount on June 29, 2015 In order to receive payment, qualified entities must be a current state vendor. DMF provided the necessary documents to become a state vendor or update existing information in a concurrent mailing.

Division staff was available to answer questions about and assist in completing vendor documents in Gloucester and New Bedford on Wednesday, July 15th and in Chatham on Thursday, July 23rd.

Crew members with questions regarding their final qualification or vendor paperwork should contact Samantha Andrews (617.626.1564 or Samantha.n.andrews@state.ma.us)

Phase 2: Shoreside Businesses

On May 4, 2015, DMF began soliciting applications from eligible shoreside businesses to qualify for Groundfish Disaster Economic Assistance.  The majority of commercial groundfish landed in the Commonwealth during the disaster aid period, Fishing Year (FY) 2009 to FY2013, were landed in the Ports of Gloucester and New Bedford, with lesser amounts landed in Boston and Chatham and nominal amounts landed in forty (40) other coastal Massachusetts communities. A goal of the program is to support the continued viability and sustainability of the groundfish industry and communities in Massachusetts. As such, an objective is to have final distribution of funds to qualified businesses generally reflect the relative distribution of commercial groundfish landings by port.

Working with representatives from both Gloucester and New Bedford, communities both heavily dependent on commercial fishing, DMF has implemented a program for shoreside aid, recognizing fishery disasters like the current groundfishery disaster have repercussions throughout those communities. Such ramifications are felt both in terms of immediate social and economic impacts, but also in reducing the communities’ resiliency to future disruptions, fishery-based or other.

As a first step towards qualification, shoreside businesses are asked to report their relation to the Commonwealth’s commercial groundfishery by filling out a “Pre-qualification Worksheet & Affidavit.” The Pre-qualification application asks shoreside businesses to report whether at least 30 % and at least $32,500 of their total business receipts/ sales in any one year from 2009 to 2013 was generated from commercial vessels with limited access multispecies permits and/or state waters Groundfish Endorsements (GEs); at least one of those commercial groundfish vessels having been qualified for 2012 Groundfish Disaster Aid (see list of qualified vessels).

Interested shoreside businesses can begin the application process for groundfish disaster aid by reviewing RFR online at www.commbuys.com (search for Bid # “BD-15-1046-DMF-FW003-00000004043”) and filling out a Pre-qualification Application.

Signed originals of the applications must be mailed or hand-delivered to the Division of Marine Fisheries’ Boston office c/o Samantha Andrews, at 251 Causeway St, Suite 400 Boston, MA 02114 by May 31, 2015. Mailed applications must be postmarked by May 31, 2015. No additional forms were required at that time, but may be requested to finalize qualification by DMF.

On July 20, 2015 DMF notified eligible shoreside businesses of their pre-qualification status. Shoreside business owners that applied are being pre-qualified to receive a tiered flat-rate payment based on meeting the following criteria:

Higher Flat Rate

Shoreside business owner was able to document in any one year during 2009-2013:

1) at least $32,500 of total business income was generated by the Massachusetts commercial groundfish industry;
2) at least 30% of total business income was generated by the Massachusetts commercial groundfish industry; and
3) the business continues to actively support the Massachusetts commercial groundfish industry.

Lower Flat Rate

Shoreside business owner was able to document a more than nominal amount of business income was generated by the Massachusetts commercial groundfish industry but did not meet either the $32,500 or 30% filters established for a higher flat rate. Additionally, the business continues to actively support the Massachusetts commercial groundfish industry.

Applicants that believed there was a technical error in the pre-qualification data had until August 5, 2015 to submit a written appeal to MA DMF.

Following a review of all appeals, DMF notified applicants of their final qualification status and payment amount on August 13th. In order to receive payment, qualified entities must be a current state vendor. DMF provided the necessary documents to become a state vendor or update existing information in a concurrent mailing.

Shoreside businesses with questions regarding their final qualification should contact Samantha Andrews, DMF Program Coordinator, by phone at (617) 626-1564 or by email at samantha.n.andrews@state.ma.us.

Phase 2: Sector Administration

On December 21, 2015 DMF notified approved groundfish sectors of their preliminary eligibility to receive economic assistance from the Commonwealth’s Disaster Aid Program. As part of Phase 2, the Commonwealth is providing eligible Massachusetts sectors with financial support for FY2014 administrative costs.

Economic efficiency and profitability are a primary goal of catch share systems in general. The federal government recognized the additional costs that nascent sectors would face and provided start-up grant assistance through the Gulf of Marine Research Institute’s Fisheries Technical Assistance Program. Since the implementation of sectors four years ago, administrative costs have been supplemented by the grant, but those funds have been unavailable since the end of the 2012 fishing year on April 30, 2013.

While the long-term goal is not to subsidize sectors, the emergence of an unexpected resource disaster in the groundfish fishery threw a major hurdle on the pathway to profitability and just as technical assistance funds evaporated. MA-based sectors would qualify for a flat rate to subsidize FY2014 sector administration fees. Expenses include costs such as the sector manager’s salary, legal fees, accounting services, insurance, and office expenses. A goal of the program is to help preserve the diversity of sectors serving Commonwealth groundfishermen.

Northeast Multispecies Sectors who have at least one active* member homeported in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts would be eligible for financial assistance. This is consistent with the homeport formulas used throughout the disaster aid program to allocate funds among states and qualify eligible participants within Massachusetts. Lease-only sectors and state-operated permit banks are ineligible.

Based upon an audit of federal permitting and trip reporting data for FY2014, MA DMF pre-qualified Northeast Multispecies Sectors for direct aid. Sectors that believe there was an error in the data used to make this preliminary determination have until January 8, 2015 to appeal to MA DMF in writing.  Following the conclusion of all appeals, DMF finalized sector’s qualification status and flat rate payment in writing. Final payments from DMF may be reduced should a sector qualify under any other state sector subsidy program so that total payments to the sector do not exceed the final flat rate paid to MA-based sectors.

*An active sector member is defined as a limited-access multispecies permit holder enrolled in a Northeast Multispecies Sector with a Massachusetts homeport as of April 30, 2015 who landed fish on at least one groundfish trip in FY2014.

Phase 3 Overview

Originally National Marine Fisheries Service Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Officer (NMFS-GARFO) Administrator John Bullard and State Directors from Maine to New York had agreed to set aside roughly $11-million for potential development of an industry funded buyback or buyout of the federal limited-access multispecies fishery. Without sufficient progress after a year of discussions, NMFS re-programmed the funds on May 6, 2015 to be allocated amongst the six disaster states to provide further assistance to their fishing communities and prevent a similar fishery failure in the future.

NMFS allocated $6.7-million in discretionary Phase 3 funds to the Commonwealth to stabilize the commercial groundfishery in Massachusetts with NMFS-GARFO encouragement that active permit holders be given “top priority”. An additional non-discretionary $200,000 has been provided to DMF for support in developing an industry-funded buyback program.

On June 30th, DMF met in Gloucester, MA with a Phase 3 Groundfish Disaster Aid Working Group. DMF formed the Working Group to assist in developing a spending plan to distribute the final of three bins of federal disaster aid funds to the Commonwealth’s groundfishery.

Following the Working Group meeting, DMF sought public comment on a draft spending plan to distribute the final of three bins of federal disaster aid funds to the Commonwealth’s limited-access multispecies fishery. Four public meetings were held throughout Massachusetts during the last week of July (written comment accepted until 5PM on Friday, August 7, 2015.

On  August 28, 2015 DMF discussed a refined spending plan with the Working Group. Subsequently NMFS has approved DMF’s Phase 3 grant proposal for implementation on October 1, 2015. NMFS has specified $200,000 for DMF to partner with industry in developing a viable permit buyback program. DMF will utilize a majority of the remaining $6.7-million to support the continued viability of the commercial limited-access multispecies fishery in Massachusetts through the following spending categories:

  • Direct aid to commercial limited-access permit holders
  • Whiting experimental fishery
  • Industry-based survey

Phase 3: Permit Holders

DMF selected a two-filter criterion to better target active fishermen in the federal commercial groundfishery throughout the Commonwealth. Eligible limited-access multispecies federal permit holders with a Massachusetts homeport as of April 30, 2015 meeting one of the two following criteria would pre-qualify for a flat rate payment:

  • Landed at least 10,000 lb. of groundfish in any one year from Fishing Year (FY) 2012 to FY 2014 OR
  • Was observed on at least one groundfish trip in FY 2014


On October 9, 2015, DMF mailed a notification of the Phase 3 program to all limited access multispecies permit holders homeported in the Commonwealth as of 4/30/15. In a concurrent mailing, DMF notified permit holders of their pre-qualification status. Anyone who believed there was a technical error in the landings and/or observed trip data used to qualify your permit had until October 23, 2015 to submit a written appeal to MA DMF  (c/o Samantha Andrews at 251 Causeway St., Suite 400, Boston, MA 02114 or by dated email to samantha.n.andrews@state.ma.us).
 

Following a review of all appeals, DMF notified permit holders of their final qualification status and payment amount on December 2, 2015. In order to receive payment, qualified permit holders must be a current state vendor. DMF provided the necessary documents to become a state vendor or update existing information in a concurrent mailing.

Permit holders with questions regarding their final qualification should contact Samantha Andrews at (617) 626-1564 or samantha.n.andrews@state.ma.us.

Phase 3: Experimental Whiting Fishery

DMF set aside $50,000 for increased fishing opportunities. Fishermen have asked DMF to assist their efforts to acquire federal experimental fishing permits (EFPs) as part of their attempts to both refine the times and areas for small-mesh whiting fishing and to make the regulatory framework more responsive to shifts in distribution and abundance going forward.

DMF, with input from industry members, proposes to assist interested and eligible fishermen in conducting small-mesh experimental fisheries for whiting within the Gulf of Maine Small Mesh Area 1 (currently open July 15–November 15) and the eastern Raised Footrope Exemption Areas (currently open September 1–November 20 and September 1–December 31) off Provincetown, MA.

Beginning in February 2016, DMF  gathered a list of interested permit holders for possible participation in an experimental fishery. Pre-qualification was limited to those impacted by the recent groundfish disaster, given this work is being funded through the Commonwealth’s Groundfish Disaster Economic Assistance Program. Interested permit holders had until Friday, March 4, 2016 to complete and return the initial questionnaire.

On May 17, 2016 DMF invited pre-qualified permit holders to bid on a formal Request for Response (RFR) for inclusion in this program. Interested permit holders should submit a bid for the Experimental Whiting Fishery by reviewing the Fishing Vessel Support RFR online at www.commbuys.com (search for Bid # BD-16-1046-DMF-FWE03-00000008496). All bids must be submitted by 5 PM Tuesday, May 31, 2016.

There was no compensation for participation; however, vessels were able to keep and land whiting and red hake. DMF provided the required observer coverage at no cost to the vessel.

Phase 3: Industry-Based Survey

Given the poor stock of Gulf of Maine (GOM) cod, low catch limits, and many fishermen’s claims that the cod status is better than currently assessed, DMF has begun a new GOM Cod IBS.   Relying on fishermen’s guidance with additional input from the Massachusetts Marine Fisheries Institute (MFI), NMFS, and the Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC), DMF is administering a three-year study in the southwestern portion of the GOM where remnants of the GOM cod stock currently reside.

More details on the new GOM Cod IBS can be found on the project’s webpage.

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