NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Deal Makes Alaskan Fishermen Crabby

December 3, 2003

Depletion of the fish in our coastal oceans is a growing environmental concern. To alleviate this problem many experts back individual fishing quotas (IFQs). The IFQ system has already shown benefits. For example:

  • In the early 1990s halibut fishermen were limited to fishing during just three 24-hour fishing openings a year; catching halibut was dangerous, profits were low, and most of the catch had to be frozen.
  • When IFQs were adopted in 1995, the season was expanded to 245 days. Fishing became more profitable and safer.
  • Fisheries in New Zealand, Iceland, Australia and Canada also show that IFQs improve fish management, reduce danger and improve product quality.
  • With IFQs, each crabber would know how much he or she is allowed to catch each season; assured of such a quota, fishermen would not be forced into the destructive "race to fish."
  • Under the current regulatory regime, with its short, intense seasons, crab processors invested in additional plant capacity such as extra freezer space; if IFQs are implemented and seasons extended, some of this processing and storage capacity will probably not be needed.
  • Also, processors will also have less control over prices, because fishers will be able to choose when they want to fish.

Now Alaska's senior senator, Ted Stevens, Republican, is trying to create a package for crab fisheries that holds IFQs hostage to benefits for processors. His rider would give crabbers IFQs only if they deliver 90 percent of their catch to a handful of processors.

Yet, better options exist for compensating processors. These include a stranded capital buyout program for crab processors or simply including processors in the allocation of the individual fishing quotas.

Source: Donald R. Leal (Property and Environment Research Center), A Bitter Pill for Crabbers," Washington Times, December 3, 2003.


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