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.
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.
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.