United States Alaska Halibut and Sablefish Fixed Gear Individual Fishing Quota Program

Alaska Halibut and Sablefish

The Alaskan commercial hook and line fishery for halibut began on a small scale in the 1880s. With the introduction of diesel-powered engines and mechanical longline equipment in the 1920s, landings increased, and fish stocks subsequently declined. By the 1980s, overcapitalization hit a new high. Fishery managers tried to improve conditions by implementing more stringent fishing regulations, but that only exacerbated the race for fish. In the final years before the catch share program was launched, the halibut season was only open for a few days of the calendar year. The commercial sector landed its entire catch limit—about 43 million pounds of fish—in those few days.

In 1995, managers implemented an Individual Fishing Quota program for the Alaska halibut and sablefish fixed gear fishery. The program has received significant attention, as it was among the first catch share programs designed to meet explicit social goals in addition to biological and economic goals. Under the program, fishermen have rarely exceeded their catch limits. Bycatch and ghostfishing have declined substantially and overfishing is no longer occurring, a remarkable turnaround. Low concentration limits have prevented corporate ownership of the fleet, and owner-on-board provisions for new participants have encouraged the participation of owner operators.  Short-term, unstable and often low paying jobs have been replaced with more stable, long-term, better paying jobs. If the fishery had not transitioned to a catch share, it would have continued to face shorter and shorter seasons and potentially, closures.