CONCORD, N.H. – Fifty Maine groundfishermen will each receive $32,500 under an agreement for distributing $32.8 million in federal disaster funds in New England and New York.

The region’s groundfishing season last year was declared a disaster by the U.S. Commerce Department after research in 2012 showed that cod, haddock and flounder stocks were not rebuilding despite catch limits. Regulators then imposed more stringent catch limits.

In addition to the $1.6 million in total direct payments to Maine fishermen, the state will receive $636,000 to help the groundfish industry, according to the agreement announced Wednesday between six states and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The Maine Department of Marine Resources will hold a public meeting on June 18 in Portland to discuss how to spend that money.

Permit holders qualify for relief if they have caught at least 5,000 pounds of fish in one of the past four years. In all, 336 permit holders in New England and New York qualify.

In Port Clyde, four of the harbor’s five groundfishing boats qualify for relief, said Glen Libby, president of Mid-Coast Fisherman’s Co-Op.

He said some fishermen, such as his brother Gary Libby, will invest that money in their boats so they can keep fishing. He said the tighter catch limits were probably necessary to rebuild fish stocks. In the meantime, though, fishermen are struggling to stay in business.

“It’s been tough. It’s one thing after another,” he said.

It is only fair to compensate fishermen for the management mistakes made by federal fisheries regulators, said Bert Jongerden, general manager of the Portland Fish Exchange, a city-owned auction house.

“The fishermen have been regulated so tightly they can’t earn a livelihood anymore,” he said.

Maine fishermen have stayed within their catch limits for years but have suffered the consequences of “inflexible federal regulations,” Gov. Paul LePage said in a prepared statement.

“I am glad that this economic relief will give Maine fishermen the flexibility to make an investment in their future, because our fishermen want a hand up, not a handout,” LePage said.

The federal government will work closely with states so the money can be distributed as quickly as possible, said Marjorie Mooney-Seus, a NOAA spokeswoman. She said the process typically takes three or four months.

In all, $32.8 million in federal disaster funds will be distributed to the fishing industry in Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut and New York, NOAA said in a news release.

The agency will also fund a program in the region to buy out permit holders, but that program is still being developed.

Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at:

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