The practice of allowing scallopers to lease out their fishing permits to others is coming under scrutiny by a pair of New Bedford-area legislators.

State Representatives Chris Markey and Bill Straus, who each represent portions of the city, are among the state reps who have written a letter to Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker “urging caution regarding the practice of fishing permit leasing,” according to a release.

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

The release describes permit leasing as “the practice where scallop boats lease out their fishing days to other vessels rather than go out to sea themselves.”

Each vessel is allotted one permit, which allows for a certain number of days at sea. Permit leasing would allow a vessel to bypass that limit by leasing out the permit of another vessel that hasn’t reached its allowed limit.

The concern is that this could lead to consolidation of the scalloping fleet that would negatively impact the smaller operations working out of the Port of New Bedford.

“This practice has traditionally been advocated by large, vertically integrated companies who are often owned by out-of-state stakeholders,” the release stated. “The legislators have concerns that the best interest of the New Bedford fishing fleet, which is primarily constructed of smaller family-owned businesses, is not being served by this practice.”

“The New Bedford fishing industry not only has historical roots in this city but a major contemporary impact on the economy and way of life in our community,” Rep. Markey said. “Fishing permit leasing is a system that will only serve large companies and out of state interests. It is essential that we continue to support the local fishing operations in the New Bedford fleet.”

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“With this letter, I and the other New Bedford reps are expressing our concern that the 'leasing' idea could be detrimental to our No. 1 fishing port status,” Rep. Bill Straus said. “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."

One of the alternatives being pushed by the legislators is the reopening of the fishing area known as the Northern Edge.

“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,” Straus said.

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