WASHINGTON - September 27 - In the first year of privatizing Alaska’s crab fisheries, some 1,150 fishermen lost their jobs and millions of crabs were wasted, according to a new report by Food & Water Watch. This program gives away a public resource to private interests while taxpayers foot the bill.
"Crab rationalization has left Alaska crabbers and coastal communities out in the cold while warming the wallets of a few individuals and corporations," said Wenonah Hauter, Food & Water Watch Executive Director. "Rather than expand a failed fisheries management model as written in the proposed Magnuson-Stevens Act reauthorization bills, Congress should go back to the drawing board and take an ecosystem-based approach to protecting our ocean resources."
In the report, Irrational Approach: How Individual Fishing Quotas Protect Private Interests, Not Public Resources, Food & Water Watch makes the case that IFQs have failed to deliver on the promise of protecting marine ecosystems, but they have succeeded at consolidating the right to fish into the hands of just a few companies with no concern for the health of the fisheries.
The crab rationalization program profiled in the report has enabled just a few companies to dominate the industry through the much-debated policy of allocating individual processing quota. This system encourages under-reporting of catch, discarding low-value crab back into the sea--often to die--and dumping entire catches if the price is too low. In the first season - the fall of 2005, an estimated 5.8 million red king crabs were discarded into the sea.
"Individual fishing quotas do not protect fish populations, marine ecosystems or the long-term interests of fishing communities,” Hauter said. “They protect the short-term interests of big companies issued fishing or processing quotas."
Proponents of individual fishing quotas claim that property rights create an incentive to act in the best interest of fish populations, fishing communities and marine ecosystems. Because a large percentage of quota is issued to big companies with no ties to the fishery or local communities, IFQs create new incentives to exploit the fishery as fast as possible. Once the fish are all gone, the quota holders can take their profits and move into a new industry.
Congress is expected to consider fisheries management legislation this fall. Both the House and Senate draft legislation rely on individual fishing quotas to manage the nation's fisheries.