State Rep. Straus speaks out against proposed changes to fishing permit leases

May 20, 2022

Plans to allow scallopers to lease out their fishing permits to others have been criticized by South Coast legislators, including Mattapoisett State. Rep. Bill Straus.

In a letter to Gov. Charlie Baker dated May 6, the representatives wrote that they are “urging caution regarding the practice of fishing permit leasing” — the practice where scallop boats lease out their fishing days to other vessels rather then go out to sea themselves. 

The letter was also signed by Reps. Antonio Cabral, Chris Hendricks, Paul Schmid, and Chris Markey.

Current regulations limit one permit per vessel. The state plan, from the New England Fishery Management Council, could allow fishermen to extend those leases and time at sea.

According to the legislators, this practice has traditionally been advocated by large vertically integrated companies who are often owned by out-of-state stakeholders.

The concern, they wrote, is that the governor’s plan would “dramatically change” the future of the scallop industry by negatively impacting smaller family-owned businesses that operate out of the Port of New Bedford.

There are  already other critical scallop fishery issues that the Federal government needs to focus on, as compared to  this idea, such as access for the fishery to new fishing areas, scallop recruitment and preserving the  biomass itself,” Straus said. “In my view, the Federal government should be working on those issues that benefit the  entire scallop industry (and there are many) as opposed to an issue like 'Leasing' where there is a real split  of opinion.” 

The South Coast legislators instead urge the state to reopen and allow fishing in the “Northern Edge” zone located in the Gulf of Maine. The spot has been closed since the 1990s.

According to the legislators, opening this spot would “open prime areas for commercial access to scalloping and bring certain economic benefit to our port in the tens of millions of dollars.”

“Our successful scallop fishery in New Bedford is no accident,” the letter read. “A risky change in practice, on behalf of only some in the fleet, is not the broader interest of which we look for your support.”

A copy of the letter sent to Gov. Charlie Baker is attached to this story.