An emerging “solution” to the problem of Catch Shares is the permit bank model, which claims to have followed in the mold of affordable housing and land trust models. The permit bank model was created by the same organizations and lobby groups that pushed for Catch Shares (The Nature Conservancy, Environmental Defense Fund, the Walton Foundation, etc). Basically, a permit bank is a program within a state with the “goal” of protecting access for the state’s community-based fleet. Unfortunately, the programs don’t allow fishermen to access the quota equally. A prime example is the Maine state permit bank, which gives quota to Maine boats, but only if you live and fish out of Maine. If you live in Maine but fish out of New Hampshire, you receive no allocation, even though you are just a stone’s throw away with your boat tied up across the river in New Hampshire, usually as a result of availability of dockage. On the New Hampshire side, the permit bank is established to only help fishermen in the New Hampshire sector. There are 8 active groundfish boats left fishing out of the entire state of New Hampshire, and F/V Finlander II is one of them, yet we do not qualify to access New Hampshire permit bank quota. Some of you may ask, why don’t we join the New Hampshire sector to get access to some free quota? Well, we tried. In every sector, pollock and haddock quota are free because there is a large abundance of both. The New Hampshire sector decided to not only charge us a $2,500 membership fee, $2,500 trade escrow and landing fees, but also to charge us for each pound of haddock and pollock we caught, simply because they could. In summary, the New Hampshire sector has access to free state permit bank fish but instead of distributing them fairly to the few fishermen left in the state, they are charging the fishermen for the fish to make a profit.
The big questions we have about state permit banks are: 1) Where is the permit bank fish going and who is it helping and 2) Is there any transparency about whether or not the fish is being caught by the fishermen being re-leased to other fishermen for a profit? Shouldn’t donated fish be used to help the active fishermen, not be traded like a stock market?
To put this in perspective…
The New Hampshire Sector decided that if we joined their sector, they would charge us seven cents per pound for haddock and pollock (a species that is essentially free to all other fishermen in other sectors). Now seven cents doesn’t sound like much, but we decided to do the math... New England Fishmongers catches around 200,000 pounds of mixed haddock and pollock over the course of a fishing year, which would mean we would pay the NH Sector $14,000 in fish that should be free, not including the cost of more expensive species like cod and white hake. If the state permit bank gives free fish to sectors to distribute among their small-scale fishermen, should the sector be charging the fishermen this much for fish that is free everywhere else?
This scenario doesn’t take into account more expensive species available from permit banks, like cod. For example, the Maine Coast Fisheries Trust Permit Bank, which is a Maine state permit bank that is in partnership with The Nature Conservancy, has cod quota available for “community-based fishermen.” This sounds like a great deal for fishermen since cod quota will cost upwards of $3/lb anywhere else… not so much. The Nature Conservancy will offer any fishermen the free or discounted cod quota, however it must be brokered through the Maine sector with first right of refusal, meaning fishermen within the Maine sector will not let the discounted cod leave the sector at that price. They purchase it and re-lease it to fishermen outside of their sector for a profit. We believe it’s wrong that no one is looking at the paper trail of where these discounted fish are going, who is making money off the permit bank fish, and what the actual cost is to the fishermen catching them (or if they are being caught at all).
The question lies again, why don’t we join the Maine Coast sector to get quick access to the The Nature Conservancy quota? It’s the same thing as asking a Republican to join the Democratic party and vice versa. We do not agree with their mission of the two sectors that are partnered with The Nature Conservancy: Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance and Maine Coast. These sectors have been influential in the catch-share policy, while we are outspoken about it. Should we have to align our values with these sectors to be able to get donated fish?
By writing this post, we already assume we will not be receiving any kind of help from any of the above parties mentioned, but we do believe we need to take a closer look at those brokering the permit bank fish and the impacts it truly has on the community-based fishermen. Truthfully, there are a lot of people who have different opinions about this. New England Fishmongers may look like a fairy tale from the outside looking in, but the day Tim sold his house, he had to take half of the proceeds from his house and wire the money, on the same day, to his sector to pay a quota bill to continue fishing. This is tens of thousands of dollars to pay someone who is at home, leasing their rights of the fish to us. How could the catch share system be working so well, then why is this the reality that small-scale fishermen are currently living? With catch shares, some fishermen win, some lose, but we do not believe we should be paying someone who isn’t fishing, to go fishing.