The gas tax is the way we pay to build and maintain roads and bridges.

Collecting it from fuel used by fishing boats, which will never travel a mile on any highway, doesn’t make much sense.

That’s what they think in Massachusetts, anyway. In the Bay State, commercial fishermen are exempt from the tax on diesel fuel, saving the boat owners as much as $10,000 a year.

It’s a deal that helps make Gloucester, Mass., a more attractive homeport than Portland, and it is among the reasons that the local fishing fleet has been cut in half in recent years.

It is a problem that is well-known to the state and was one of the major findings of a task force charged with looking for ways to preserve Maine’s fishing industry. For the past three years, the state has rebated fuel-tax collected to run fishing boats, a program that will expire this month.

On Jan. 1, the nonprofit Maine Fisherman’s Cooperative Association will begin a temporary rebate program until its $30,000 budget runs out.

While this is a good start, it’s not nearly enough. The state government should take charge and stop collecting this tax, which hurts a struggling local industry. And it’s not just the fishermen who are affected.

Institutions like the nonprofit Portland Fish Exchange, and companies that sell bait, service boats and process fish also lose out when the boats move to Gloucester. Everyone feels it when these job creators are hurt.

The gas tax isn’t the only reason that fishermen leave Portland. Among the biggest is the difference between state policies on whether to allow fishermen to land the lobsters they catch by accident in their nets. Massachusetts permits it; Maine does not. This “by-catch” issue also was identified by the task force, but addressing it in Maine is opposed by the lobster fishing industry, making a policy change unlikely here.

But a tax forgiveness or rebate program for commercial fishermen would not face the same political hurdle. The fuel tax would be an easy obstacle for the state to remove.

At a time when the newly elected government is looking for opportunities to get out of the way and let business grow and thrive, this is the right move. Our fishermen should not have to sail to Massachusetts to get relief from a tax designed to pay for roads.