Stop Guided Sport Fishing Individual Fishing Quotas
For Halibut in Alaska - A Public Taking

Under the IFQ (Individual Fishing Quota) proposal that the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council (NPFMC) is "fast tracking", halibut sport fisherman that don't own their own boats will pay much more money to go halibut fishing in the future. Sport fisherman that don't own their own boats, can't afford to own boats, don't have the confidence to run a boat in the North Pacific, or chose to use a charter service for whatever reason will have to pay the charter operator for the right to fish in the future if this IFQ program goes through because they effectively won't own the fish they catch anymore! IFQ's mean that the halibut charter operator will be given ownership of the public halibut resource and you will essentially have to buy the fish you catch from them! A reasonable estimate is that this extra "IFQ" cost will result in a new $1.00lb cost for every pound of halibut you catch on a charter vessel. If the prospect of a new economic barrier bothers you, read on!

What is an IFQ?

The NPFMC is charged with making recommendations to the Secretary of Commerce concerning the management of public fisheries resources in the North Pacific. In 1995, after years of controversy, the U.S. Secretary of Commerce approved awarding "fishing privileges" to commercial halibut fisherman (defined as boat owners). Every Alaskan costal community as well as Anchorage and Fairbanks went on record in opposition to this program but the Secretary of Commerce approved it anyway. A "fishing privilege" is not a property right - it allows commercial fisherman to temporarily use a public resource that isn't being utilized by citizens.

An IFQ (or ITQ - Individual Transferable Quota) is known as an Individual Fishing Quota. The National Marine Fisheries Service handed out these permits in 1995 to commercial fisherman based on their average commercial halibut landings from three of the six qualifying years from 1985-1990. For example, if your landings averaged 1000lbs for those years, then you got IFQ's that allow you to catch 1000 lbs every year. If you don't want to fish anymore, you can sell them to someone else and keep the money. The annual 1000lb catch is adjusted every year based on the overall halibut stock condition - so your quota can change over time. The total value of the 1995 IFQ program was worth in excess of 2 billion dollars - and it was given away for free. Many commercial fishing companies (that owned the boats) and individual boat owners became instant millionaires! Crewman that helped all the vessel owners catch all the fish that were used as a basis for awarding IFQ's were left out in the cold. One of the largest quota shares (worth several million dollars) was awarded to four Anchorage lawyers who never fished a day in their lives! They saw the IFQ program coming, bought a fishing boat and hired a crew and skipper. They were the "vessel owners" so they got the IFQ's. The 1995 IFQ program was authorized under the Magnuson-Stevens Act. There has been so much public opposition to the program that Congress put a moratorium on any future programs. The moratorium is set to expire in October 2002. The NPFMC claims they can go ahead with the 2001 sport IFQ program because it is an extension of the 1995 commercial IFQ program and not a "new" program.

Are IFQ's Property?

IFQ's are not considered to be property, strange as that might seem. They are defined as a fishing privilege because Congress can revoke them without compensation per the Magnuson-Stevens Act. But they certainly are property because they have monetary value, can be bought and sold, and can even be used as collateral for loans! There has never been a serious legal challenge as to whether or not IFQ's are property, so they remain in force. The commercial fishing industry certainly believes they are property and often refer to IFQ's as having "privatized" the public fisheries resource - the rhetoric is so common that even the public apparently believes it. Several years ago, the Internal Revenue Service started to seize IFQ (and other fishing permits) as "property" in bankruptcy proceedings. An Alaskan Congressman succeeded in changing the bankruptcy rules as a way to sidestep the property issue and avoid having the IRS pursue a court ruling on the question. IFQ's were moved into a status that the government can't seize in bankruptcy proceeding - just like a calculator and filing cabinet is to a bankrupt accountant - they need these items to make a living and pay the government back the owed taxes. The IRS dropped the lawsuit after Congress changed the tax code. Of course, if the Federal Courts were to ever rule that IFQ's are property, it would invalidate the 1995 IFQ program.

Who Is Steering the Ship?

The Alaska Sportfish Council is promoting the sport halibut IFQ proposal to the NPFMC. Of course, these same people will benefit tremendously from IFQ's. Mr. Bob Ward has been a leading proponent and a member of the NPFMC advisory panel. He is a Homer, Alaska charter operator and commercial halibut longliner. His clients landed over 900 halibut during each of the 1998 and 1999 seasons. The number of halibut landed by clients is part of the basis that would be used to award IFQ's. The sport fishing IFQ proposal that the NPFMC is advancing could result in Mr. Ward receiving approximately 21,000 lbs (in all fairness, the exact details haven't been finalized so this figure is based on one of the recently approved final draft proposals) of halibut IFQ's worth likely in excess of $200,000. Other members of the Alaska Sportfish Council would receive similar amounts. A few large fishing resorts could receive in excess of $1,000,000 of IFQ's. The Alaska Sportfish Council purports to "support public access for recreational uses", yet they support IFQ's! Don't depend on the Alaska charter industry to "do the right thing" and protect your sport fishing rights and access. They won't - there is too much money at stake! They are doing the wrong thing for recreational fisherman!

The NPFMC is composed primarily of commercial fishermen whom take an oath of office "to protect and safeguard the public interest". Of course, they only look out for there own commercial interest. An analogy would be that we could have a North Pacific Forest Management Council that was composed of commercial users such as loggers, dam builders, miners, and timber mill owners. How do you think they would manage out Public forests? Of course, the public would cry foul, yet this is the norm in the federal fisheries arena.

The real issue is that commercial fisherman view IFQ's as property (they think they own the fish!) and want to be compensated monetarily if America's population grows and more people sport fish. This will happen in the future because the plan several years out is to allow charter operators to buy 1995 commercial longline IFQ's so they can expand their business if they desire. The percentage of the total halibut landed in Alaska by commercial longliners increased from 80% of the total harvest in 1996 to 89% in 2000 (35,000,000 pounds landed in 1996 versus 57,000,000 pounds landed in 2000)! During this same time, the sport harvest decreased from 20% in 1996 to 11% of the total catch in 2000 (6,900,000 pounds landed in 1996 versus 6,700,000 pounds landed in 2000). Yet they are concerned about the growing guided sport harvest???!!! What is wrong with this picture? Who has grown?


IFQ's are inappropriate for recreational fishing. IFQ's privatize a public resource and charter operators are neither commercial nor recreational fisherman. Charter operators are service providers - not fisherman. They provide the transportation and local know-how for citizens to access and harvest their own public halibut resource. It is unfair to the public to separate guided from unguided sport fishing and this is the effect of this sport IFQ program. Citizens that either don't own boats, can't afford to, or don't have the local know-how will be economically penalized by this IFQ program. It will result in a situation where guided sport fisherman effectively (if not legally as well) won't own the halibut they catch on a chartered vessel. Since IFQ's are treated as property rights, the sport fisherman will have to either buy their halibut catch from the charter operator or initially pay more to fish. This is because the charter operator that buys IFQ's will have to amortize this cost as a business expense and pass it on to the sport fisherman. It's the same either way. Every U.S. citizen has ownership of our public halibut resource with the right to access and harvest by simply buying a sport fishing license. IFQ's for guided sport will penalize major sections of the U.S. population - those that lack a sufficient size boat or any boat at all, money, experience, and boat operating skill. Young and older sport fisherman will be especially negatively impacted since they are more likely to use a charter service. Public access will have a new economic barrier. Guided and unguided anglers will be treated differently. IFQ's are not in the public interest!

The NPFMC could easily reduce the sport harvest with existing tools already in place such as implementing charter moratoriums (where needed to avoid over crowding), adjusting season lengths and bag limits, and adopting local area management plans or harvest limits. They shouldn't be recommending giving away the public fishery resources via IFQ's to solve a problem that doesn't exist.

What Should Sportfisherman Do to Stop this Public IFQ Giveaway?

Write everyone you know who likes to fish. If you are a member of a sport-fishing group, have your group write a letter in opposition. Send your friends this letter as an explanation of the issue. Send letters to Governor Tony Knowles (he supports sport IFQ's) local Congressman, Secretary of Commerce, NPFMC, newspaper outdoor editors. Send this letter around on the Internet. Oppose this IFQ program. The NPFMC is planning to approve the IFQ plan at the April 8, 2001 meeting in Anchorage, Alaska. Comments must be received by the end of March. The only way to stop it after they approve it is at the Secretary of Commerce level. Addresses follow:

Secretary of Commerce
15th St. & Constitution Ave NW
Washington DC 20230

North Pacific Fisheries Management Council
State of Alaska
605 West 4th, Suite 306
Office of the Governor
Anchorage, AK 99501-2252
P.O. Box 1100011
Fax 907 271 2817

State of Alaska
Office of the Governor
P.O. Box 1100011
Juneau, AK 99811-0001
Fax 907 465 3532