When Alaska's halibut and sablefish fisheries went to individual fishing quotas in 1995, regulators envisioned predominantly owner-operated fisheries. That is, IFQ holders should be on the boat when the fish are caught.
In 2010, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council began hearing reports that progress toward the owner-onboard goal was slipping.
The reason was the expanding use of "hired skippers."
IFQ holders increasingly were employing other people to run their boats and harvest the halibut and sablefish. What's more, they were buying additional quota and using hired skippers to catch that fish, too.
Original quota recipients are allowed to use a hired skipper. Regulators recognized it was a widespread practice prior to IFQs. And they figured it would subside as fishermen retired.
The council saw, however, that the transition to owner-onboard fisheries actually was moving in the opposite direction.
A federal analysis found that between 1998 and 2009, the number of original recipients using hired skippers in the halibut fishery increased from 110 to 210. Halibut IFQ landed by hired skippers went from 7.9 percent to more than 19 percent.
A similar trend was seen in the sablefish fishery.
Officials now are moving to tighten regulations on hired skippers.
A proposed rule would bar an original recipient from using a hired skipper to harvest IFQ acquired after a cutoff date of Feb. 12, 2010.
The National Marine Fisheries Service is taking comments on the proposed rule through May 28. Read the Federal Register notice here.