Maine groundfishermen will split $640,000 in federal disaster relief funds – an attempt to help fishermen devastated by quota cuts enacted in 2013.

The funds will be distributed in the form of rebates to fishermen for the fees they pay at the Portland Fish Exchange. About 40 fishing boats that sell fish at the city-owned exchange will benefit as the money is distributed over the next year and a half, said General Manager Bert Jongerden. He said the fish exchange handles about 98 percent of the groundfish landed in Maine.

“This is one way the government has seen to put money directly back onto the crews’ pockets,” Jongerden said.

He said the idea of a fee rebate, a product of public hearings held by the Maine Department of Marine Resources, is an efficient way to help fishing boat captains and their crews, whose pay is based on the value of a catch and fees paid to the fish auction houses. The fees amount to between 4.5 cents and 10 cents per pound, depending on the value of the fish and number of pounds sold. Fees charged to individual fishing boats range from several hundred dollars to $25,000 annually.

DMR Commissioner Patrick Keliher said that distributing the federal money through fee rebates rewards fishermen who land fish in the state and sustains the state’s shoreside fishing infrastructure and supply chain.

In September 2012, the U.S. Commerce Department declared a disaster in the Northeast groundfishing industry in anticipation of deep quota cuts for the 2013 fishing year. The declaration opened the door for Congress to appropriate funding to help alleviate the financial hardship caused by dwindling fish stocks. In January 2014, Congress appropriated $75 million for the mitigation of fishery disasters around the country, including $32.8 million for the New England Multispecies Groundfish Fishery disaster.

In October 2014, Maine’s 52 federal groundfish permit holders each received $32,500, the first of a three-phase award of disaster money.

The 2015 fishing year, which begins Friday, is going to be even harder on fishermen than previous years, with fishing quota cuts of 70 percent to 80 percent in some cases, said Portland fishing boat owner Jim Odlin.

“I don’t see anything that has changed the situation,” Odlin said. “It’s even worse for a lot of fishermen.”

Although a legacy industry, collectively, groundfish contributed just 1.4 percent of the state’s commercial fish landings in 2014, which totaled $585 million. Lobster accounted for $457 million of that amount. In 2013, groundfish accounted for 1 percent of the total landings of $540 million.