TRANSCRIPT - Jeb Morrow
Morrow is a young commercial fisherman in Sitka, Alaska and
the owner of a fishing vessel, The Rocket II.
How is possible for a vessel owner without a quota to get into the
fishery after IFQs have been implemented and the quotas already
divided up and the fishery is basically closed off to new fishermen?
There have been
a lot of complaints about IFQs, but one of the positives that seems
to have come about with the program is that a lot of people who
were originally allocated IFQs suddenly decided that they didn't
want to have to go out and deal with catching them. So what one
of the common practices has been is somebody with quota will purchase
a 20% interest in a vessel, on paper with a contract, and they don't
have to be on the boat for the harvesting of the halibut.
So that makes
it nice for them because they get to take a big, fat chunk off the
top of the gross, and it makes it nice for boat owners, like myself,
who've just gotten in without any original allocation, we can go
out and make our boat payments and feed our families, and generally
succeed in the fishery, as long as you're willing to put in a full
But a lot of other vessel owners in your situation seem to have
a very tough time getting the money together and a lot are them
are bitter. How come you're not?
Well, I was
raised on a vessel. We didn't get a house until I was about in the
first grade. My dad was one of those hardcore burn-in-turd kind
of guys, a lot of yelling, a lot of turning in the crew. It wasn't
uncommon for them to stay in one trip; he was a hardcore fisherman.
So that's what I'm used to; that's what I grew up with.
nice 8-month fishery, to picking your weather and sure we fished
out of the year, but who cares? It's not going out April 1st screaming
weather, screaming skipper, and risking your life a lot more so
than we do today by far for what might have then been zero dollar
crew share or a ten to fifteen thousand dollar crew share. Now we
can kind of have a general idea of how our season is going to be
because of the IFQs.
What about the loan program? Here you are buying a boat. It doesn't
sound like you would probably be able to buy a quota that you yourself
could own one day and not have to carve off such a huge hunk to
your landlord without this loan program?
Despite a lot
of negative arguments, one of the positive things about the IFQ
program is that the NMFS has put a loan program in place for skippers,
deckhands and anyone who wants to get involved in the fishery, with
extremely low interest, lower than anything you'll find in a bank.
You've fished during the derby days when it was really fierce. How
come at this point in your life, you're still going into fishing
instead of going to college, and you are already talking about going
fishing with your son?
to college costs money or I could go fishing and make money. One
of the nice things about Alaska's fisheries is that they are sustainable
and we've learned from mistakes made on the East Coast and we put
conservation, to a large extent, in front of fairness. That's why
there is an IFQ program. Nobody really said it was fair; it was
as the program was implemented, fishermen got involved with their
local groups, like Linda Benhken's group, Alpha, and said well,
we need to do this; we need to have blocks put in so that the little
guy isn't run out. And all these things came into play as IFQs were
being implemented, and luckily a system has been put together that
One of the nice
things about the IFQ program is their loan program, which has extremely
low interest and allows for a guy to get involved from ground zero
and catch fish to pay off his loan in a way that works.
I'd like to
go on record in saying that just being involved here with our IFQ
program throughout the state of Alaska - and I've seen the fishery
here in the Southeast and in the Gulf and out in the Aleutians -
and for being such a young program, it's really starting to work.
It wasn't until last year that we had to actually put a tax into
the program. Last year IFQ holders were taxed 1.8% of their gross,
which was relatively small amount of money but put a relatively
large amount of production into the program. Rumor is that a lot
of that went into the loan program, which is great for small guys
So it can work.
You can sustain a natural resource and harvest it and feed people.
And that's what we do here. And that's the truth. There's a lot
of misconceptions, here in the United States, in the lower 48, about
what our last fishery is. One of our last battles was with the halibut
charter guys; they had a national campaign going - 'Save Alaska's
Oceans'. It was bullshit. They get these sports guys and get them
all riled up and they have no idea what they are getting riled up
about and really they have no idea.
Critics are scared to death of IFQs because they think they will
just get consolidated by the industry and basically get run by the
big corporations and big vessels.
That can be
the nature of the beast and that's why you can't restrain from implementing
measures like the IFQs. You have to be involved. You have to form
it so that it works. So that's what we've done here, is not saying,
"No we can't do anything," and letting your natural resource go
down the drain, like it happened on the East Coast. You have to
get involved and take measures to stop that. And we've done that.
There's no way that that's happening here and we've taken safeguards
to make sure that it doesn't.
a big one that I've heard is privatization of our natural resource.
But it's not something that already isn't so. Any big business,
to sustain a natural resource and harvest it, it has to be, to some
extent, privatized. That's just the nature of the economical beast.
Do you think the fact that ultimately you will own the resource
will give you more of an incentive to fish more carefully and make
you a good steward of the resource?
I'm glad you asked that. One of the many negative comments I've
heard about the IFQ fishery is this thing that we're privatizing
a natural resource. Well, to a certain extent that may be true,
but one thing that I know is that if I own a part of this resource
and I'm responsible for a part of this market, I'm going to take
darn good care of it. Because I'm throwing hundreds of thousands
of dollars into a resource, I'm going to take care of it.
Are there a lot of people your age getting into fishing?
Most of the
people around my age, if they are getting into fishing, are usually
in a crew position, but that's just the natural order of fishing.
You crew and if you decide you want to break away you do that. And
it is possible to do that.
How many people in high school are getting into fisheries and how
many are going off to college?
Not a lot. I
mean, you see a lot of people that graduated from high school or
college or didn't go to school coming up from the Lower 48, seeking
their fortunes, and that still happens a lot. Around here, basically
if you were born into the fishery, then the chances are yeah, you'll
go fishing. That was my scene.
Maybe one of
the reasons maybe that I'm 24 years old now and am a boat owner
is because I was a deck boss when I was 13 years old on my dad's
boat. People get involved in fishing when they're 18, 20, 22. I
had a little jump on things, I guess.