Gordon Jensen is a retired halibut fisherman and a council member of the Halibut Commission and the North Pacific Council Fisheries Board, in southeast Alaska.

Do you think these Individual Fishing Quotas have been good for both the industry and the fishermen?

I think it's been good for the fishermen, but not very good for the industry. A lot of the processors were hurt quite a bit by it; boats having more time to run to other areas and a lot of people got into smaller companies started buying fish. So it had adverse impacts on the processors, I think. But as far as individual fishermen, it gave them more safety and gave them the chance to improve the quality of the product they were trying to sell.

Before, when you only had a very short season, you didn't have time to primary process the fish and really take good care of it. So I think after very short time, quality improved greatly.

A lot of fishermen we have talked to are afraid that IFQ's will result in consolidation, with fewer and fewer people owning most of the resource. Do you believe that that's true?

It just depends on what the rules are. One of the reasons that people supported the IFQ's was the fact that the owner of the IFQ's had to fish the vessel; had to be on the boat. That meant that you couldn't possibly have foreigners or big companies owning big portions of the resource, so that this kept it to be owned more by individuals than corporate identities. So I think that this is the thing that attracted individual fishermen. And the companies that had hoped they could own IFQ's to guarantee their market share were very much disappointed in the way it worked out.

Could you describe what fishing was like during the derby days?

During the derby days, as the seasons got shorter you couldn't go fishing when you liked to fish in decent weather. You had to go when the season opened. If it was a big storm, you lost the season. Many times you didn't get to go fishing at all because of the hazardous conditions on the ocean. And not only that, when you got a lot of fish in a very short time, you didn't have time to properly clean and prepare the fish.

So especially for smaller boats, now that you can pick your time, you have many months to go fishing and you can fish when you don't have other things to do, and you can pick your weather in very much safer conditions.

If you were to give a graduation speech to a class of new fishery managers, what would your advice be?

I think the main thing is to get a good education in fisheries management and biology of animals and all of these other things that it takes to be able to make plans and have a good judgment in how to conduct fisheries. And it takes a few years of experience. It isn't something you can just go up and do. You can't read in a book; you have to have some background experience in how to manage the resource in a way that will take into consideration all of the adverse impacts that are in the area.

Have you enjoyed being a fisherman?

Oh yes, very much. It's an independent life. Being on the ocean and trying to make decisions, all the mistakes are your own, not anyone else's. If you blow it buddy, it's your fault. It's an independent life and you're your own boss. And it's a good life. I've fished halibut for fifty years. We've always made a good living, and a clean life; lot's of clean air. So I enjoyed it very much. And I also enjoyed being involved in fisheries management. I spent a lot of years, probably almost forty years being involved in all of these different managements - Halibut Commission, North Pacific Council Fisheries Board. I was advisor to the North Pacific Council for thirty years, so I spent a lot time being involved in management and I liked it very much.

A theme we hear all of the time is, too many boats chasing after too few fish. Can you speak to that? Is that a change that the industry has gone through?

In Alaska now, we have overcapitalized fleets; almost all the fisheries have too many boats. Now they're talking about the crab fisheries have gone way down and you have all these boats struggling to survive. Same thing with the pollock fishery now. They've made all these changes to the Magnuson Act and there's very few, and many of the boats have been taken out of the fishery and it seemed like whenever there was a fishery that prospered, everyone that wants to get into the act and lot of times people don't use very good judgment in the amount of money they spend to go fishing.

It seems like for the most part, southeast Alaska has done pretty well, although there was a time when the halibut fishery was overfished and not doing well.

Oh yes. When they first started with the Halibut Commission, the stocks were in very poor condition. They had big ships and a lot of effort there and they fished almost all year round and the stocks had started to go down pretty low, and for a while the stocks were in very poor condition because of the foreign fishing impact of bycatch. And the foreigners were catching a lot of fish and halibut in the Bering Sea and you had the Japanese long-liners catching black cod and catching a lot of halibut and black cats.

When the trawlers first started in, they were trawling for bottom fish in the Bering Sea. They were catching huge catches of bycatch, weren't allowed to sell 'em, they were just dumped overboard created quite an impact. We think so anyway.

Halibut fishermen have always been inclined to support such low total allowable catches in the North Pacific. Why is the attitude of these fishermen so different?

Well, they figured it was their livelihood and someone had better take good care of it to perpetuate it as long as possible. And we had a lot of input into the management. And we had fishermen and processors and government people on the commission and we had a lot to say about how the quotas and the seasons were. Many of us were overcautious or conservative. We sort of helped bring the quotas down to what we thought was reasonable amounts.

Do you think that IFQ's have helped encourage a sense of stewardship among fishermen?

I think so. I think it's had an impact that way because people feel they have ownership there. People are more interested in things that they own than in something that other people participate in, or have a chance to have something of.

What is your outlook for the future?

Things are going to change, like salmon farming. Everyone wants to get into the act of salmon farming. And I think eventually, in Alaska, as far as the salmon is concerned, we are going to have to find out a cheaper way and more efficient way of catching these fish to be able to compete with the farmed salmon. And it might not be as it is now because there's too much gear, too much effort, too many people involved.

Things have to change if we're going to be able to use the resource that's here and be able to sell it. You can always catch. You know catching isn't the biggest part of the fish business anymore now. It's being able to sell it and compete with the rest of the world.

Do you miss the old days?

Do I miss going out fishing? No. I am very happy with the situation now. I like to see the young fellas have a chance at it, and that they do well. I like to help out any small way I can to see that they are more successful. So I am happy to go sports fishing now. Go out and catch a salmon now and then, crab or a shrimp or whatever.