Jeb 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 season.

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.

Comparing this 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?

Basically, going 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 necessary.

Fortunately, 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 works.

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 getting started.

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.

Another complaint, 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?

Absolutely. 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.