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State secures $1m for groundfish permits

PORTSMOUTH - The state's struggling small-boat commercial fishing fleet received good news on Wednesday when the U.S. Department of Commerce released $1 million that will be used to buy permits critical in allowing New Hampshire fisherman to increase the amount of groundfish they are allowed to catch and sell.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen announced the allocation on Wednesday saying the funding will be used by the N.H. Fish and Game Department to buy federal permits that govern the amount of groundfish a commercial fisherman can catch.

Fish and Game Marine Fisheries Division Chief Douglas Grout said the money will be directed toward buying permits that will allow small-boat fisherman in New Hampshire to catch increased amounts of cod, haddock, flounder and 13 other species of groundfish whose taking is regulated by the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Grout said Fish and Game will own the permits with the associated poundage allocations going to fisherman who have faced hardship in recent years as a result of increased regulations aimed at rebuilding groundfish stocks.

"Without these extra permits they are going to be struggling to survive," Grout said of New Hampshire's small-boat commercial fisherman.

Grout said increased regulation over fisherman in the past 10-15 years has had a devastating impact on small rural commercial fisherman by cutting the days boats are allowed to be out fishing and limiting the allowable catch when they are on the water.

He said new management practices by the National Marine Fisheries Service in recent years have placed small-boat fisherman at a disadvantage and forced many to abandon the livelihood altogether.

"We have already lost over half of our groundfish fleet here in New Hampshire," Grout said.

In May, Shaheen urged the release of funding to help fishermen who face low catch limits this year.

"I urged Secretary Locke to get this funding out as soon as possible because New Hampshire's small boat fleet is struggling and in critical need of this help," said Shaheen in a statement issued on Wednesday.

The new support will allow N.H. Fish and Game to fund a permit bank for New Hampshire groundfish, which will be supplemented by the recently announced funding included in the Senate's Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations bill.

Grout said he hopes Fish and Game will acquire the funding this winter so it might go out and buy federal permits allowing a larger poundage allotment to those still fishing for groundfish.

"We are going to be making sure they are used by people in the New Hampshire sectors," Grout said.

He noted Maine, Massachusetts and Rhode Island received similar funding to set up state permit banks.