Arne Fuglvog is a commercial fisherman in Petersburg, Alaska, who also participates in fisheries policymaking.


How have ITQs affected fishing?

I think the biggest positive is in regards to the conservation of the resource. There is a tremendous amount of waste and unwanted bycatch, and we would shake the species that we weren't allowed to keep when we were fishing for IFQ or pre-IFQ. For halibut in the derby days, we would have to discard all of our sable fish. And when we were fishing sable fish, we would have to discard all of our halibut -- waste of millions of pounds of fish. I think that now that we can keep them both has probably been the biggest positive.

And the other one is the lost gear. In the derby days we would set as much gear as possible because we would only have 24 or 48 hours to fish. And a lot of times, you didn't get all of your gear back, especially if the weather was really bad. So there'd be all of this lost gear on the bottom, ghost fishing, and catching and killing millions of pounds of fish. So I think those two things have been the biggest positives.

The next thing would be safety. We would have to fish in any kind of weather. The season would be set on that day, and we would have to go no matter what the forecast was, no matter what the seas came up. And it was pretty bad. Sometimes hauling gear in 25-foot seas -- 60, 70 knots. And once you set your gear, you're kind of at mercy. You pretty much have to get it back. So the safety factor has been one of the biggest positives.

What are some of the negatives of derby fishing?

In a derby fishery it was open access, so anybody could go. There was an unlimited number of vessels, all trying to race and catch as much fish as possible in this set amount of time. And in halibut we had 4,500 boats going out on the day.

Everybody would throw gear on the boat, go out, set up as much gear as possible. It was incredibly crowded. You would be setting gear on top of other boats. You were side by side, sometimes you would have 12 or 13 of us setting all together in the same area, with the gear getting tangled up on top of each other. And then we would just start hauling back as fast as we could, trying to catch as much fish.

Because we knew we only had one, maybe two shots at it, to make our entire living from that halibut fishery. It was crazy! Total disregard for weather, for safety. There was just this mad race that was getting completely out of hand, with the number of boats going out there.

And because it was just a day, boats could come from anywhere, doing anything else and gear up for just one day of fishing. There wasn't any real preparation. The gear expenses weren't that high. Just throw it on board and go. So going from an 8-, 9-month season over time, right down to one day is really what happened, over probably a 15-year period.

How is your fishing different now that there are ITQs?

Under the present ITQ system, we have an 8-month season. We can choose when we go out and fish. We can choose to go in good weather. We can go when the prices are high. We can work it around our other fisheries. We can work it around our crew schedule, our family schedule. It's totally at our discretion, and that gives us the ability to pick the best weather.

We can buy quota in the areas we want to fish. If we want to fish close to home, we buy quota near our home and fish there. Maybe we sell the quota that we had out west, or we don't buy any out there, so we don't have to be so far from home. It's just totally up to us now. The skipper of the boat gets to choose and we work out when, where, and how we want to fish. We fish totally different now.

What would you say are the two best reasons why the halibut fishery is such a world-renowned, sustainable fishery?

The two biggest reasons, in my mind, are good management and industry involvement. We did exceed the quota in a number of those years when we were derby fishing because it's so difficult, even in a 24-hour period, to control what three or four thousand boats can catch. And so we were exceeding the TAC fairly regularly, even for halibut, more so for sable fish than halibut. But since ITQs, we have not exceeded the TAC in any area, even once.

Because you are working against some of the negatives, what are you trying to do on behalf of some of the people who are left out?

One way we're trying to increase the ability for an initial entrant to buy in is to provide a loan program, which was part of the Magnuson-Stevens re-authorization. Now we are actually being taxed 3% of our gross revenues from IFQ fisheries. Part of that funding funds a loan program to go towards initial entrance who have small amounts of quota or no quota at all.

Another way that we are trying to keep access available is by keeping small amounts of quota available to buy. We try to keep the consolidation down. And we've put in tools and constraints to allow for small amounts of quota to remain out there. Something that initial entrants could actually afford to buy. Because if the quota is so expensive and there's just nothing small to buy, then someone who's just getting started in a small boat can't afford to buy. And we've got to keep that initial access to entrants. It's vital.

It's no longer an open fishery, but it's not entirely closed either?

Well, it's not open. You have to buy in to get in now. So it makes it more expensive. But I think that it offers you more security now than it did in the old days because you didn't know what could happen. Now you have a set amount of pounds that you can try to maximize by going out and fishing again, in good weather, for the best price, with as few expenses as you can. Maybe you and your family or you and another crew, or you and another IFQ holder, to try to maximize your investment, get the best return and keep that fishery viable for you.

Do you think ITQs are helping to encourage a better sense of stewardship?

Absolutely. I think one way to look at is, I have a 25-year loan and for the next 25 years I am going to be paying off that loan from my revenues from IFQ fishing. I want that fishery to be around at least during that time and I want my son to be able to have this fishery also. I think it's a great lifestyle; it's a great way to make a living. And I want him to have the same opportunities that I do. The only way I can assure that is to fish responsibly myself and try to get others to fish the same way.

Do you think that one of the reasons why ITQs have been successful is because of the way that they foster stewardship?

I do think it's true that ITQs have fostered better stewardship. And one of the main reasons is that we do own part of the resource. We own the right to go out and harvest and we want to keep that right going. We want to go out each year and catch fish. We want to keep the resource healthy. We don't want to overfish it. We want to keep it for future generations, and so there's some long term view there that we want to keep it healthy, we want to keep it viable, and we want to keep making a living at it for as long as we can and for our kids.

I think that the halibut and sable ITQ program is working in Alaska. We still have things we need to work out. That's why I'm part of the IFQ implementation team in the AP, to take industry's input and try to make this a better program. What with the industry's involvement and the commitment from fishermen and the agencies to make it the best program we can, I think we are going to be able to do that. And we have a process up here that can address those things and do the best we can and to try to work out the bugs. The program is still not that old. So we have some improvements we can make, but I think it's working.

You're not only a fisherman, but you are also involved in fisheries policymaking towards the sustainable use of the resource. Why are you involved?

You know, I've been asked that question before and it's a difficult answer, but I think the biggest reason is that it's important to me to keep these fisheries healthy. It's important to me as an individual, my family, and my community and to the state as a whole. Alaska, and Petersburg especially, really rely on the fishery, so I just have a deep commitment to making these things work.

And I figure anything I can do that helps is for the benefit of a lot of people, as well as myself. So there's some altruism there, but it's also a commitment I've decided to make. And I kind of feel that it's my turn. I have followed others from the community here, including my father, who have been involved in the process and have done a lot of really good things and so I had good examples of that.

Do you anticipate that the National Marine Fisheries Service might find some resistance when they start fine-tuning and looking for other impact on wildlife?

Sure. I want to state up front that the industry and the Council that we work with are very cognizant of resource conservation. But at the same time, as we move towards actions to affect fishing behavior -- how fisheries can conduct themselves and taking a precautionary approach -- we may not have the facts. But because we may not have the facts, we may be asking the fishery to cut back or to move out from desirable fishing areas to avoid a potential problem. And the science gets questioned because we are affecting people's ability to fish or hitting their pocketbook.

So understandably, we're being questioned; we're being challenged on the science probably from both ends. People who don't believe we're doing enough, people who believe we are doing too much and when you're not dealing in an environment where you don't have all the facts before you, you're doing the best that you can trying to meet the objective that you want to meet. And taking a precautionary approach that hurts people's pocketbooks certainly will be challenged.

I hear that most of the flatfish and the rockfish are being exported to Asia, mostly to Japan. How about the pollock? There's a huge amount of pollock being harvested. Where's it going?

There are three main products that are being produced from the pollock industry. The highest value product is roe, and that's harvested when the fish are just prior to spawning in the February/March period. And that mostly goes to Asia.

Surimi is a product that's a flesh product that primarily goes back East as well. And then there's some fillet market and that's what primarily is used in this country in terms of the fish burgers that you see at McDonald's or whatever. It's kind of a replacement product that's used interchangeably with cod, in terms of a fillet product.

What is it like being a part of a community like Petersburg?

I think the best part of living in Petersburg is the heritage that we have. And with the fishing community as the center part of this town, there's a real closeness you grow up with. A lot of my friends are fishermen. My father and my friends' fathers were fishermen. And so we have a real deep connection to that. I do have a lot of pride in coming from a fishing community and a community that was built from fishing and is still very viable. It's our main industry. And I want to keep it that way.

What is it like to be in a family that's fished for 4 or 5 generations?

You're not fully aware of it all the time. But I certainly know it was passed on down to me. I was taught by my grandfather and my father, and I am hoping that my son will be taught by my father and by me. And that heritage is kind of very subtle but it's there and it's prevalent. You feel that you are continuing the tradition of your family. And there's a responsibility to me that comes with that, especially when you are following my grandfather and my father, who were successful and very prominent fishermen. So there's a responsibility to carry on with the family and do things right.

What do you love most about fishing?

That's a tough question. I love being out on the sea and hauling the gear back and not knowing what you're going to catch. And then when you start to see the fish coming aboard and you start to realize you are going to have a really great day that day. You may not fill the boat, but you know you are going to get a lot of fish. And it's a good feeling. It's a feeling of satisfaction. I think a lot of things I've done in my life have been satisfying, but I remember going to bed at the end of a day of working 20 or 24 hours and putting a lot of fish in the hole -- that sense of satisfaction, I don't think I've ever felt that in many other things that I've done.

Say all of a sudden you had to change professions for some reason. What would you miss the most?

I would miss a number of things. I would certainly miss being out there. I have grown up my whole life on the water. And being here in Petersburg and southeast with the mountains right there, when I get away from that I am definitely disoriented.

But it would be the camaraderie the relationship with my crew. The relationship I have with my wife when we are working together and my kids. I would really miss that opportunity to work that closely with people. Sometimes in some really adverse conditions that create some really strong bonds that I don't think you get in other occupations.

What are some of the hardships making your living in fishing?

The most difficult thing on your family is being away. It's going fishing and being away from home. And that definitely is hard. It's difficult for your family for you to be gone and it's difficult for us to be away from home. All fishermen have to deal with that at times, to a different extent. I think probably the physical-ness of the work is also a hardship. You have to stay in shape to be able to keep up. And it's a very physical lifestyle, which is something I find rewarding, but at the same time it can take its toll, also.

There's also a lot of responsibility with it. You have a number of people that are really relying on you to make correct decisions. And sometimes when you are out in real bad weather, I don't want to say life or death, but some dangerous situations. They're relying on you to make the decisions and to keep them safe. And I think as a skipper, and as an owner, you have to really take that to heart. And you have to be careful. And you have to have your boat well prepared and maintained. And make sure that you make the correct decisions because there's a lot riding on it, not only the safety of your crew, but your vessel as well.

It seemed like you and Cindy work together really well. Is it a family thing?

It is. I think one reason we chose to tender for part of our living is the fact that we could do it together. It suits both of our backgrounds. We both grew up doing it. It's something the kids could step into at a young age and do. And it's something that we can do side by side and really are equal partners in it. She's as valuable in the boat as I am. I couldn't do it without her. And so we do have a great rapport and working relationship. It's a lot of fun. We get to share a lot of experience that other people don't get to do. And it can be stressful -- 24 hours a day, in adverse conditions, stressful conditions when things get really busy, lack of sleep. But again, those kinds of things are what create a very strong bond.

Why do you think that the relationship between the fishermen and the managers is so less adversarial in Alaska than in other regions?

I think one of the other reasons is that we work closely with the managers. We go to a lot of meetings. We also have managers who are members of the community. And they're our friends and our neighbors. And we develop a personal relationship with them, and that's got to carry over into your business relationship. So there's a respect there. There's a friendship there. And you may differ, but you respect the other's opinions and you agree to disagree.

And another reason is that we're all on the same page. We have the same goal: the long-term health of these fisheries. Both the managers and the fishermen, that's what we want. We may not want to go about it in exactly the same way, but in the big picture, we want the same things out of this. We want sustainability, we want long-term viability, and we want good management.

And they have incorporated us; they have involved us as an industry. When you keep communication open, that's a big part of it. And you include the fishermen in it and you respect their knowledge and their experience and you try to use that as much as you can with the science. That's the key.

A lot of the fishermen in New England say that the science is a bunch of bull. We have seen zero of that attitude here. Is that because here the management plans have been working? Does that have anything to do with the mutual respect?

I think so. I think you've hit it on the head. With the Alaska Department of Fish and Game managing the salmon fishery since statehood in Alaska, for the most part, at least down here in southeast, we have had successful runs year after year. And their system of managing with escapement and abundance seems to be working. I think that most fishermen agree that works and so we may question some of their decisions, but overall we think that they have had success and what they've been doing seems to be working so we're going to give them the benefit of the doubt.

In the halibut fishery, it was the fishermen that formed the International Pacific Halibut Commission. And they were the first managers and they were incorporated in the stock assessments and so on and it evolved as a management agency with fishermen into more of a scientific agency. So the fishermen actually formed the commission from the start. And I think that's a big part of it, that we have had integral involvement.

With the state management of the salmon fisheries, again, I think the fishermen have been very involved with the managers and the department. And they've worked closely with us since statehood and I think we have developed that respect and developed that rapport.