The men and women in Maine’s commercial fishing industry are used to working with a very narrow profit margin, but they are not magicians.

A few thousand dollars on one side of the ledger or the other can make the difference between profitability and insolvency. As the businesses struggle to survive, the Maine government should do what it can to at least not add to the burden if it can’t ease it.

The Legislature has a chance to do something positive for embattled fishermen. L.D. 185, a bill sponsored by Boothbay Democratic Rep. Bruce MacDonald, would eliminate a sales tax on diesel fuel and make a small but important difference to the fishermen’s bottom lines.

Groundfishing boats have been leaving Maine for a decade, many choosing to bring their catch to a home port in Massachusetts, which is closer to the fishing grounds. Maine’s government can’t do anything about that, but it can stop charging the tax that is not charged in the Bay State.

According to a Press Herald story by Beth Quimby, Maine fisherman James Odin has moved all three of his vessels to Gloucester, Mass. Last year, he spent $1.2 million for fuel. If his boats had been based in Portland, he would have spent an additional $60,000 on sales tax.

Saving money for the fisherman would not be the only positive result of repealing the tax. Maine businesses that mend nets, maintain boats or process fish – and even those that sell diesel fuel – rely on those owners choosing to bring their catch here.

Those businesses are as vulnerable as the fishermen themselves, and losing the support services would mean the loss of an entire industry. When, as biologists predict, the groundfish stocks rebound, there could be no one left in Maine to benefit.

The Legislature is tasked with balancing the budget, and it has to be careful about any move that results in a loss of revenue.

Eliminating this tax is projected to cost $570,000 that would have to be made up elsewhere. We hope that when lawmakers examine this issue, however, they consider what other revenue is being abandoned by collecting a tax that cedes a competitive advantage to another state, affecting a wide range of businesses.

When that calculation is made, forgoing this revenue could end up looking like a bargain.