The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ended Wednesday its $24 million buyout program that eliminated dozens of commercial fishing boats from New England’s declining groundfishery. Some 21 vessel permits were acquired from Maine fishermen.
In a ceremony at the Boston Fish Pier, Capt. Michael Barry accepted $517,000 to retire his 80-foot trawler Captain Sam after landing his last catch. His boat’s permit is the 78th that the federal government has acquired to date. The vessels were either sunk, scrapped, or donated to a public or nonprofit agency for nonfishing use such as research, education, law enforcement or humanitarian purposes.
John Bullard, director of NOAA’s Office of Sustainable Development and Intergovernmental Affairs, awarded the funds to Barry.
“We remain concerned about the number of groundfish permits that are currently held, but not used, and may become active as these stocks recover,” he said. “We will continue to make the latent effort as visible as possible to ensure that the sacrifices made by fishermen now are not lost to new effort as stocks recover.”
A total of 278 groundfish boat owners applied to participate in the two-part buyout program, but only 78 permits were acquired. About 1,700 permitted vessels remain in the New England groundfishery, but many are not actively fishing.
Started in 1994, the buyout was part of a broader federal program to reduce fishing effort in New England by 25 percent. That same year, thousands of square miles were closed to fishing on Georges Bank — a vast, underwater plateau southeast of Portland — where cod, haddock and yellowtail flounder stocks had sunk to historic lows.
The end of the buyout program comes on the heels of the New England Fishery Management Council’s recommendation last week of tougher fishing regulations for the Gulf of Maine — stretching from Cape Cod to Nova Scotia — where cod stocks are in danger of collapse.