NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


August 5, 2004

A U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy report offers a plethora of solutions to the problem of overfishing: More regulations, more bureaucracies and more government spending. Unfortunately, the report doesn't include individual fishing quotas (IFQs), say Donald R. Leal and Jane S. Shaw of the Property and Environment Research Center.

An IFQ is a percentage of the total allowable catch for a certain fish. For example, if the total allowable catch of South Atlantic wreckfish is 7,400,000 pounds, a fisherman may have a 0.1 percent quota share of 7,400 pounds. This quota in turn can be bought or sold to other fishermen.

Leal and Shaw note that the use of IFQs in Alaska's halibut industry has proven successful:

  • Before the use of IFQs, halibut season was about three days per year, propelling fishermen to catch as much as they could in that time period; in 1990, losses associated with hazardous fishing and incomplete processing were about $3.2 million.
  • The adoption of IFQs in 1995 extended Alaska's halibut season to 245 days per year; fishermen received a higher price for fresh halibut, and fishing practices became safer.
  • Additionally, IFQs prevent overfishing; before Alaska's IFQs, the actual catch often exceeded the total allowable catch.

Indeed, IFQs have proven successful in New Zealand, Iceland and parts of Canada. However, they have faced opposition from fish processors who have invested in large refrigeration units to accommodate the abundance of fish during the three-day fishing seasons, and they fear losing returns on their capital investments.

But IFQs may be the only logical solution. Peter Emerson, a senior economist at the Environmental Defense Fund, calls IFQs the only rational way to manage this resource.

Source: Donald R. Leall and Jane S. Shaw, "Just for the Halibut," Weekly Standard, May 31, 2004; and "Preliminary Report of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy - Governors' Draft," U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy.


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