were due to processes associated with the maturing of fisheries and misunderstanding of opportunities that would be available to U.S. fishermen as foreign fleets were pushed out. And, in many cases, overinvestment can be linked to declining natural resources, with some of the resource decline possibly caused by environmental degradation and natural climatic shifts. A vivid example is the overinvestment in Pacific salmon fisheries, where the overwhelming source of overinvestment must be attributed to the problems with the resource (NRC, 1996).
The stressed nature of many fisheries is apparent from scientific reports of decreasing numbers of spawning fish, reduced overall biomass and population levels, and lower catch per unit effort (CPUE) in commercial fisheries. Because some management measures have not been very effective in reducing these stresses, fishermen,1 communities, and policymakers have been seeking ways to manage fisheries that will maintain biologic resources in the long term, avoid misusing capital, preserve employment, and maintain fishing communities. A relatively new policy instrument, the individual fishing quota (IFQ), is among the alternatives being considered as a possible solution to excess harvesting and processing capacity, stock depletion, and possible ecological disruptions that characterize many managed U.S. fisheries, including those that operate under some form of restricted access. Broadly speaking, IFQs are exclusive individual privileges to harvest portions of an overall quota of marine fish or shellfish.
The Magnuson-Stevens Act authorizes the use of a variety of approaches for controlling fishing effort and protecting fish stocks and their environments, including systems for limiting access. In fact, most U.S. fisheries now operate under some form of limited access or limited harvests. The IFQ as a tool for limiting access has evoked considerable controversy, however, because of its potential for creating windfall benefits to the initial recipients, the privileges that IFQs create, and the potential for decreasing employment and changing social and economic relationships among individuals and communities. Through the Sustainable Fisheries Act of 1996,2 Congress placed a moratorium on the ability of the regional fishery management councils to develop or submit any fishery management plan using IFQs until October 1, 2000. Furthermore, it directed the Secretary of Commerce, acting through the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), not to approve any new fishery management plan that includes an IFQ program. In the meantime, the National Academy of Sciences, acting through the National Research Council (NRC), was requested to prepare a comprehensive report on IFQs. This report is intended to fulfill the congressional mandate.