T he subject of charter operators leasing quota from the commercial halibut fleet has been reported in the Empire lately. I would like to raise some points on this issue from the charter perspective.
First, any leasing option cannot be pushed through the federal regulatory system before 2010 at the earliest but more likely 2011. This leaves the charter fleet probably broke and gone before the usefulness of this leasing wisdom materializes.
It has been pontificated by the commercial fleet that this "catch sharing" plan is only fair to compensate the commercial fleet for what is rightly theirs, bought and paid for. "Why should charters get it for free?" they ask.
It may be true that much of the commercial quota being fished today has been paid for along the line. However, the entire quota amount, 75 percent of the available catch, was given away free of charge to the long-line fleet in 1995 when the individual fisheries quota program was implemented. So soon they forget. Another 15 percent is given away free and wasted, each year, as bycatch to the trawl fleet. No one paid the American people when 90 percent of their resource was given away "free" to commercial fishing interests. Having been in the charter business since before the IFQ program, I can assure you, no one wrote me a check for my future rights to the resource.
One of the conditions set forth in the IFQ program is that the holder of the quota must be on the boat when the quota is fished. This is to eliminate absentee quota leasing. It keeps the resource with the people fishing it. You can't buy a bunch of quota and sit on the beach in Hawaii while others do your work for you. This prohibition against "holiday fishing" is a sacred tenet of the IFQ program. That is until the idea of leasing to charters came up. Now it seems to be OK.
Next is the problem of the common pool fish verses the leased fish. I'm out with Joe Public on a charter and he catches one halibut. He says, that was fun let's do it again. I say, OK, but this time it is going to cost you, the second fish is a leased fish. How much he asks? Four bucks a pound, I say. Wait a minute; I paid for the fishing trip, I bought a license and now I have to pay for the fish by the pound! Isn't halibut a public resource? You want me to buy a public resource, he growls. Yup. Welcome to Alaska.
Another concern we have with leasing is we work hard to pay off our loans and own our homes, our businesses and our boats. If leasing is such a good idea, why do so many Americans want to own their homes and businesses and cars? Why not just lease, because leasing is only good for the people who own. Lodge and charter owners have huge investments. Leasing halibut quota is like being a share cropper. When we lease fish our clients (the public) have historically caught, we are buying our business back, by the pound, year after year, with no hope of ever owning it, or selling it, or of quota even being available to lease year to year.
This is our biggest fear, that there will be no fish available to lease. If the halibut price goes up, the commercial fleet can decide to catch their quota instead of leasing it to us. We have no guarantee we will be able to do business each year. No worries, our friends in the commercial fleet say, we have plenty of quota to lease. Finding enough quota will never be a problem. We have quota leasing brokers. You can get it on line. If the commercial fleet has so much extra quota to lease us, why are they working so hard to reduce our client's harvest to one fish a day? It seems, if they have that much quota to lease, they must have too much fish.
Rick Bierman is a Juneau area charter operator. He is active on halibut issues for the Juneau Charter Boat Operators Association.
Juneau Empire ©2013. All Rights Reserved.