TRANSCRIPT - Gordon Jensen
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.
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?
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
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
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?
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
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
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.