Northwest lawmakers are urging federal officials to quickly allow Bering Sea fishermen to start fishing for Alaskan king crab. The crab season was scheduled to start on October 15th, but due to the government shutdown, the federal employees at the National Marine Fisheries Services (NMFS) have been unable to issue permits for the fleet, thereby delaying the start of the season.
In a letter sent today to Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, which oversees the NMFS, Rep. Suzan DelBene (WA-01), Rep. Peter DeFazio (OR-04), Rep. Rick Larsen (WA-02), Rep. Derek Kilmer (WA-06), Rep. Denny Heck (WA-10), and Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (OR-01) wrote:
"While we recognize that your agency will be facing a significant backlog of work as a result of the government shutdown, we respectfully urge you to make this a top priority, and expedite the issuance of the IFQ and the IPQ so the fishing season can begin as soon as possible."
The retail value of the Alaska king crab season is worth more than $400 million annually, representing a major source of economic activity for the Northwest's seafood industry. The delay in the start of the 2013 season threatens the industry's ability to export to the lucrative Asian holiday market.
"Missing the Asian market when it is in peak demand could result in a price decrease by as much as 20-30%, which means millions of dollars in lost value," continued the delegation. "This would be a crippling loss for the industry and to the thousands of men and women whose livelihood depends on the king crab season."
In addition to the disruption to the overall market for the seafood industry, the delay of the fishing season has affected fishing boats that are incurring costs daily as they sit tied up to Dutch Harbor unable to begin their catch. Every day the boats are idled costs each vessel in the fishing fleet about $1,000 for food, fuel, insurance and maintenance.
On October 11, 2013, Keith Colburn, captain of the Alaska crab-fishing vessel Wizard, testified before the Senate Commerce Committeeand explained that, "We have been racking up bills getting ready to go fishing. If we're tied to the docks waiting for the government, we can't pay those bills. I'm a small businessman in a big ocean with big bills. I need to go fishing".