Thursday, May 14, 2020

A blow to owner-onboard fisheries?

Tomorrow is a big day for individual fishing quota (IFQ) halibut and sablefish players.

In a special meeting starting at noon, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council will consider emergency proposals to liberalize quota transfer and vessel cap rules.

The effect of such changes could be substantial consolidation of the catch under fewer fishermen and fewer boats.

Such consolidation was certainly not one of the desired outcomes when fishing under IFQ management began in March 1995.

The coronavirus is the impetus for these proposals. Proponents believe the rule changes would help the industry reduce the risks of spreading the virus among fishermen and communities, and could spare many quota holders the costs of travel during the pandemic.

Proponents also note the substantially lower prices paid for halibut so far this season.

The council has received numerous written comments about these and other proposed rule changes. You can read it all here.

The relaxed quota transfer and vessel cap rules, if approved, would be temporary for this season, which has a long way to go before it closes on Nov. 15. But these steps would surely raise concerns about the erosion of a fundamental goal of the IFQ program — the preservation of owner-onboard fisheries.


Deckboss said...

Here are the motions the council passed today:

Anonymous said...

There has always been a lot of talk about consolidation of IFQ ownership and the long line fleet. It is much more complex than it seems. The number of IFQ holders has gone down significantly, but that is mostly due to guys selling out the small blocks. In reality the quota has been spread out better in the fleet. At the start of the program the top quartile held a huge share of the quota, this is not longer the case as most of the big holders cashed out.

I have fished halibut for 20 years under the IFQ program and own IFQ. The original rules worked well in the beginning, but the fishery needs to be revamped. Their is has been too much pressure on the fish for too long. The direct catch fishery caught way too much for too many years, and they wasted a lot of fish. Draggers are killing huge numbers of halibut as they are getting bigger and fishing harder every year. It seems like more and more sports fisherman are coming up to Alaska. The ocean can't sustain all the fish being killed and that is a far larger problem than fleet consolidation.

For the direct fishery its becoming to make a living on the fishery. Crew shares for a boat cap used to be $75,000 and this year a crew member would be lucky to make $15,000. Crewshare percentages have lowered - Low prices, scarcity of fish, increase taxes, observer fees are all eating away the economic viability of the IFQ fisheries. Its sad because a lot of crew members made all or a large part of their living long lining. For the IFQ owners it is getting harder to justify owning or buying quota. It is getting tough for guys to even find boats to do walk ons. If a guy wants to get into the fishery it really doesn't make sense to rig up a boat for long lineing with little money in it.

The reality is that catching halibut and blackcod in any kind of volume is difficult, and the concept of a bunch of little boats catching small blocks is a pipe dream. Anyone who has been to 3B or 4A understands what I am talking about. To catch IFQ in many of the areas you need a serious boat, and that requires a decent revenue. NMFS needs to raise the boat cap, and allow fisherman to hold an extra block, they should allow communities to buy qouta and lease to those starting out, they need to allow charter guys to buy IFQ, they need to lower the dragger by-catch allowance by a meaningful amount, draggers need 100% camera coverage so they can get a hand on the actual by catch volume.

Anonymous said...

The Council spoke emphatically that this action is intended to not change in any way the owner onboard goals of the IFQ program.

Allowing this kind of consolidation is an exceptional action tailored for exceptional conditions in the fishery.