Management, Overfishing, & Alaskan Halibut

Case Study

Halibut underwater.

The Alaskan halibut fishery has not always been as robust as it is now. Although Alaskan halibut fishermen have long supported catch limits low enough to protect the stock, overfishing occurred because the fishery had open access, allowing an unlimited number of boats to participate. With so many boats competing, the fishing season became a frantic race--a so-called derby fishery. Fishermen felt compelled to fish in unsafe weather conditions and at a dangerous pace.

Photograph of halibut underwater by Roberta Brooks.

Man standing under giant halibut.

Today the halibut fishery is a closed fishery. A vessel cannot participate unless its skipper or crewmembers own a share of the total allowable catch--called an individual fishing quota, or IFQ (also called ITQs: Individual Transferable Quotas). Initially allocated to skippers with a history in the fishery, the quotas can now be bought and sold like private property. A fisherman can enter the fishery only by purchasing quota from someone who wants to sell their share.

Men gutting halibut.

Though ITQs seem to have worked well in southeast Alaska, they remain a controversial management measure from the perspective of fishermen in other parts of the country. Though the Alaskan halibut fishery implemented safeguards that prevent the quotas from accumulating in fewer hands, many fishermen argue that ITQs enable shareholders with more money, oftentimes large corporations, to buy quota shares and aggregate them into a monopoly.