Fisheries within federal waters are held in public trust for the people of the United States. Public trust principles are thus applicable to any allocation of fishing rights. The government has an affirmative duty to take the public trust into account in conferring IFQs. Such allocations cannot be irrevocable, but remain subject to the government's continuing supervisory responsibility over them, to hold and manage them on behalf of the people. Although fishing privileges can be granted, they remain subject to modification in light of current knowledge and current needs.
Fisheries are not unique among common-pool resources in generating conflicts among users. A variety of approaches have been used to manage and reduce such conflicts in other resources; these approaches may provide insights for fisheries management.
Another resource besides fish that has been managed with the use of quotas is the air we breathe. In this case, the quotas limit the amount of pollutants that can be emitted into the air.
Managing air pollution is similar to managing fisheries in several ways. Both have historically been treated as open-access resources, and as a result, both have experienced unsustainable levels of exploitation. Whereas the problem with a fishery involves excessive catch, for the airshed the problem is emissions levels that exceed human health standards. Both resources are considered part of the public domain, creating resistance to transfers of the resource to private owners.
Spatial aspects are important for both resources. For some pollutants, the location of emissions is very important. (Emissions that are concentrated in space, for example, cause more damage than dispersed emissions.) In some fisheries, where the fish are caught matters as well. Different areas may have much higher bycatch rates of juveniles or non-target species, or may reduce the foraging success of at-risk marine mammals and seabirds, and the concentration of fishing activities (e.g., bottom trawling) in certain areas may cause more significant environmental impacts than if these activities were more dispersed.