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Commercial Fishing License Limitation in the State of Alaska: A Controversial System of Grandfather Rights

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  • After two failed attempts to establish limited entry in its salmon fisheries,iii pursuant to legislation adopted by the Alaska Legislature in 1973, Alaska placed its primary salmon fisheries under limitation by 1975. Alaska persisted in seeking limited entry largely in response to declining salmon resources coupled with increasing levels of participation. Alaska’s system limited the number of gear licenses to a maximum number which must be equal to or greater than the highest number of units of gear present in a particular fishery during the four years prior to limitation. With all prior participants eligible to apply, the number of eligible applicants was generally far greater than the maximum number. Under an elaborate system of grandfather rights, permanent entry permits have been awarded to those fishers who demonstrated the most dependence upon a particular fishery, as measured by their past participation and economic dependence. Eligible fishers may continue to fish until there is a final determination on their applications. Permanent entry permits are, for the most part, freely transferable and inheritable, subject to some restriction (for example, permits may neither be leased nor pledged as security for a debt). Salmon fishers helped design Alaska’s program for Alaska’s salmon fleet, which consisted largely of individual fishers who owned and operated their own vessels. The program achieved a moratorium on new entrants and a gradual reduction of units of gear toward the maximum number as individual claims to permits were resolved. Alaska’s license limitation program contributes to limiting fishing capacity, because it is coupled with other limitations on effort such as vessel size and gear restriction. Taken together, Alaska’s license limitation and other management tools allow managers to calculate with some assurance the power of the fishing fleets they seek to control. Although the program is neutral as to residency, the percentages of permits held by Alaskans have tended to remain stable from the time of initial limitation. Alaska’s program has always been controversial. The allocation system is complicated, expensive, and requires years to complete. While the program has survived all major legal challenges, courts have modified the program. Although the percentage of permits held by Alaskan residents has remained stable, in some areas, the number of permits held by local, rural Alaska residents has declined. Additionally, the high cost of permits in valuable fisheries has made initial entry into some fisheries difficult. Alaska’s license limitation program is most useful in fisheries that resemble Alaska salmon fisheries. The more a fishery departs from the Alaska salmon fishery model (as a fleet of individual owner-operators), the less likely it is that Alaska’s form of license limitation would be of value.
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  • Twomley, R. Commercial Fishing License Limitation in the State of Alaska: A Controversial System of Grandfather Rights. In: Microbehavior and Macroresults: Proceedings of the Tenth Biennial Conference of the International Institute of Fisheries Economics and Trade, July 10-14, 2000, Corvallis, Oregon, USA. Compiled by Richard S. Johnston and Ann L. Shriver. International Institute of Fisheries Economics and Trade (IIFET), Corvallis, 2001.
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  • Corvallis, Oregon, USA
Proceedings Editors
  • Johnston, Richard S.
  • Shriver, Ann L.
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  • International Institute of Fisheries Economics and Trade; U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service; MG Kailis Group



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