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Shutdown Delays Crab Season

Published On: Dec 24 2013 07:20:14 AM AKST
Updated On: Oct 14 2013 12:00:00 AM AKDT

(KTUU-TV, 10-14-13)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska -

Tuesday is the official start of crab season in Alaska -- but you'll find very few boats out in the Bering Sea, due to the government shutdown.  Federal officials who would normally issue individual quotas and other permits are furloughed, and until they're back on the job crab fisherman can't leave port.

"It's going to be over a million dollars in revenue during the holidays, that we'll lose for not having the red king crab," said Skip Winfree, owner of 10th & M Seafoods in Anchorage.

Although crab season can extend beyond Christmas, Winfree and other retailers need to have their product in-house by the second week of November, or risk not being able to fill holiday orders with customers in Alaska and the Lower 48.

The entire industry stands to take a hit, if this year's crab harvest hits the market after the holidays.

"Overall, we're looking at if it drags on long enough, it's going to be a 20 to 25 percent decrease in the price paid, not to mention the cost and bills the vessels are racking up, sitting there tied to the dock," said Mark Gleason, director of the Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers. "We have about 80 boats up there."

The owners of those boats are losing about $1,000 per day, per boat. Even if the shutdown ends immediately, it will take three to five days before fishing crews will be able to hit the water again.

"Very disappointing," Winfree said. "I know that our legislators in Washington are doing everything they can, but there is not much they can do if they can't get it to a vote."

A spokesperson for Sen. Lisa Murkowski's office says he's awaiting word of a response from Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker to a letter Murkowski sent last week, asking Pritzker to let the season begin even if the government is still shut down.