Sustainable Fisheries Gone Wrong?

By June 27, 2011Ocean News

What are Individual Fishing Quotas (IFQs)?

Catch Shares or Individual Fishing Quotas (IFQs) have been implemented in most fisheries under the management of the National Marine Fisheries Service in the United States. But, what exactly are IFQs? They are methods where fishery managers set a Total Allowable Catch (TAC) for a specific marine species and then allocate catch shares or quotas of the TAC to individual permit holders. The quota that permit holders receive is a percentage of the TAC set for a year. The percentage is based upon the amount of fish sold or landed under the permit for a given number of years before the IFQs were established. Under this system quotas can be sold and leased by the permit holders in a “stock market” like system where the price is set based upon the market demand.

Sustainable Fisheries

IFQs are seen as a sustainable alternative to the traditional fishery management plans such as derby style fisheries and trip limits, which are viewed as unsafe and unsustainable. Many environmental groups support IFQs because a quota would give the permit holder an effective ownership of a fishery. And as a result permit holders would have some interest in maintaining the stocks and keeping them productive from year to year. Provided the TAC is not set too high a fishery would never be overfished because the quotas would not allow it.

The Reality of IFQs

The reality of the IFQ system is much different. Such a method in which the quotas can be bought or sold can be beneficial to big corporations and puts smaller owner/operators at a disadvantage. In my experience, smaller owner/operator fishing vessels can be cleaner, better maintained and the crews seem to care more about preserving the fishery. The company boats can be dirty, in poor condition and the crews can be a ragtag bunch that does not have a conservation ethic. In addition, the consolidation of fishery allocations by large corporations can put smaller ports out of business along with the associated shore facilities; such as bait suppliers, ice houses, tackle shops, fish buyers, restaurants and fuel docks.

Going Forward

IFQs are a good step toward sustainable fishery management, but other factors such as growing global demand for protein and climate change are putting addition pressures on marine species. These issues need to be addressed in addition to the detrimental social norms that are prevailing. The problems with IFQs are not in the legal framework but in the dominant social conventions that are still in place. Large corporations that idolize quantity to make profit at the expense of quality that maintains sustainability seem to be the unfortunate trend. I want to see more mom and pops and less giant chains.

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Join the discussion 4 Comments

  • Rob Bryan says:

    I was under the impression that IFQ can’t be sold to corporations. “Only persons who are U.S. citizens are authorized to receive or hold permits under this section…”

    And further that the holder actually has to be onboard the vessel. Is that not true?

  • Rob, you are correct permits are issued to individuals. And as our crazy legal system has deemed, corporations are viewed as individuals. I look at the permits issued to the boats I am on. As it turns out, many of the permits are issued to LLCs. Where I work, there are not any huge corporations, but there are a few larger companies that do have a significant control over a fishery in a given area.

    The sad reality is that the permit holder would lease out a certain tonnage to say the current captain of the boat and the permit holder never leaves dry land. So, a permit holder can lease a pound of fish for $1. If the current dockside price of said fish is $3. The captain and crew only get $2 because the other $1 goes the the permit holder that leased the poundage in the first place.

  • “IFQs are seen as a sustainable alternative to the traditional fishery management plans such as derby style fisheries and trip limits, which are viewed as unsafe and unsustainable.”

    I appreciate the post, but I fear you may be confusing the promise of catch shares with what has been observed.

    The science presently shows that catch share programs improve the consistency, rather than the health of fisheries. Here is a podcast from the Lenfest Ocean Program on just this: It gets going around 4:10.

    I think, though, that it is indeed fair to say that IFQ systems are generally safer than derby-style fisheries.

  • Karleen says:

    I worked for a year as Fishery Observer for a company located on Vancouver Island. I was responsible for giving the IFQ to the Skipper, and sometimes they were quite ticked off if they were on low levels of some species and made them miserable the whole trip. I was given guidelines and rules to follow as an observer. I was the only observer on board so I had to make exceptions or certain bypasses like under estimates or allowing salmon to be ate on board. It was difficult.

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