Rob Bruce is a commercial fisherman in southeast Alaska. Alabama.


As a fisherman who's fishery has implemented IFQ's, can you speak about how IFQ's have affected you?

I've been shut out of this particular fishery, the halibut and sable fish in Alaska, through the implementation of the IFQ's. I was not fishing as a skipper during the window period, so I didn't get any of the appropriations. However, they are about to implement some sort of management plan in the albacore fishery that I am involved in now. And in that fishery, if they go with IFQ's, I'll qualify for a significant amount. So I'll have one fishery where I've been shut out of it and another where I have access to it.

I know in the albacore fishery in particular, the managers have said that no matter what happens with the way it is going to be managed, there are going to be fewer fishermen in the future. That the goal of any management program is going to be to reduce the number of fishermen. For the benefit of the resource, I guess. That seems to be the strategy that they are applying.

How have IFQ's affected you? And is there a way to get back in?

They can buy back into the fishery. The quota shares are traded on the open market. There is money available in a loan program for entry-level people to participate in the fishery and it's certainly a possibility to buy back into the fishery.

How do you feel about the fact that fishermen on the East Coast, and probably elsewhere, are suspicious of IFQ's. How does it feel that you've put in all this work and yet you've missed this window period?

Well, a lot of people got nailed. One of the drawbacks to the program is that the people that fished hard up until the window period started, and quit that year had 50 years of fishing experience and got nothing for it. It was only the people that fished during this particular time that actually profited at all from the quota system.

And was your situation after this window period?

I was working as a deckhand during the window period and had a good season the last year of the window period with a partner, and we bought a boat the year that it closed and we had four years to fish it before the system was implemented. And we were shut out after that four-year period.

How many other people have been shut out?

There were a significant percentage of the fishermen involved in these long line fisheries that were shut out.

All in all, could you state your feelings about IFQ's? Do they work? Are they a good thing?

IFQ's are a management tool. Whether they are appropriate for every fishery or not, is not determined. They are working in Alaska, due to the effort of people like Arne who put a lot of effort into getting this loan program together. By working, I mean the quota is not being consolidated as rapidly a rate as it would be otherwise and there are avenues for people to be involved with the fishery if they so choose to.

Whether it is appropriate for east coast dragging or for albacore trawling, it's up in the air at this point. All fisheries are different and they need to be looked at on an individual basis, in my opinion.

With regard to the halibut and sable fisheries out here, were the IFQ's a goodthing? Were they necessary?

I think IFQ's were a good thing for the resource. It spread the effort out over a 7-month period as opposed to two 24-hour periods. And it has certainly improved safety on the ocean for fishermen. And I think in general, something had to be done at some point. We couldn't continue to have the open access.

As a fisherman who has fished not just in Alaska, but also in other fisheries in other parts of the world, how would you rate fisheries management in Alaska?

Very highly. The halibut fishery has been managed for 75 years up here. There's a pool of data that is beyond what any other fishery that I am aware of has and the state does an outstanding job managing the crab fisheries and the salmon fisheries, in my opinion, even though there are contentious issues that come up from time to time and people don't always agree with what everything is done. But, by and large, I think they do a great job. And I think most people would agree with that.

How come that isn't so in other places? In many other places we have been, there has been a lot of distrust between fishermen and scientists or fishermen and management. Why is that not the case here?

I think that maybe the longevity of the programs up here is part of that. The salmon, or the halibut, fishery has been managed for 75 years and people are used to the system, they are used to the regulation, they are used to having the scientists set the total allowable catch every year and that's what people go with. So I think maybe the longevity of the program makes that attitude a little bit different.

Do your peers and colleagues here share your sentiments about fisheries management?

I think in general, people do. I know that people have problems with the management from time to time, too. And there's fishermen's organizations in place that deal with those things when they come up and lobby a lot for variances and put a lot of effort into getting the fishermen's view into the regulatory process, which it really needs to be a group effort.

Regulators and scientists and fishermen - everyone involved needs to be a part of the process of doing it. But my sense is that people like the management programs that are in place in Alaska, in general.

I'm pretty pro-regulation though, too. A lot people aren't as pro-regulation as I am. I see the benefits of it and I make enough money doing what I do the way I do it, so I'm conservation-minded and regulation-oriented.

What is it that you like about fishing?

I like the seasonal work. I work best in project-to-project, season-to-season type jobs where I am not having the next 20 years mapped out for me and know that I am going to be at the office at 9:00 every morning for the next 20 years. I like that flexibility in my life. I know that I can take off in the spring if I want to and I can take off in the fall. I can fish when I want to, I can fish all winter in the South Pacific if I want to. I like that flexibility in my life. I try to keep the workload under six months a year and I like that as well.

There are other things that are seasonal as well. But why do you pick fishing?

Well, there's a camaraderie that develops between fishermen. You come in from a trip and you meet each other in the processing plant, or in the restaurants or the coffee shops and there's a camaraderie that's developed. You have common experiences and you can relate those to each other in ways that other people can't really understand. You know, fishermen's restaurants or bars all over the world are really similar, all that I've traveled in anyway. I've been in a lot of different places.

How about the social dynamic aboard the boat? Is the crew, or teamwork something that is enjoyable?

It can be very enjoyable. It can be very horrifying as well, if personalities don't match and you're out there for a month or two together it can be a very hard time too. But it forces you to deal with things. And try and make it work. The longline fisheries in Alaska aren't quite as crucial because people are doing shorter trips and when you get to town you can always part ways if you want to.

But if you're albacore fishing and you're on the ocean for a couple of months at a time you need to really get along with who you're out there with. It can get tense.

You've got hot springs around?

There's great hot springs around. Here in the southeast, there are enough warm springs as a social hub during the seine opening, so a lot of the fishing fleet goes in there in between openings and partakes of the waters.

What's the hardest thing about fishing?

For me, it's my relationship with my partner. We're apart a lot. She carries fish with me on a number of occasions, but it's not really her calling. And she will go right out on the ocean for a two-month trip with me but she doesn't want to. She has other things in her life that she needs to do, so it definitely pulls us apart a little bit and that is something that we are constantly dealing with. And that's a difficult aspect, no question.