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Shutdown Grounding Alaska Crab Industry

By Adam Pinsker, Multimedia Political Reporter, apinsker@ktuu.com
Published On: Oct 11 2013 11:30:19 PM AKDT
Updated On: Oct 12 2013 03:10:43 PM AKDT

(KTUU-TV, 10-11-13)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska -

Instead of reeling in his next bounty of crab in the latest episode of reality TV's "Deadliest Catch", Captain Keith Colburn spent his Friday testifying in front of the Senate Commerce Committee about the crippling effects the government shutdown is having on the crab industry.

"My wife manages the shore-side end of businesses; my brother's on the boat with me; my crew depends on me to feed their families; we've been racking up bills to get ready to go fishing," said Colburn, the owner and operator of the F/V Wizard.  "If we're tied to the docks waiting for the government, we can't pay those bills.

On behalf of all fishermen, I'm asking Congress to end the shutdown now."

The reality of the shutdown is beginning to set in for communities along the Bering Sea. 

Larry Cotter, CEO of the Aleutian-Pribiloff Islands Community Development Association, says if the shutdown ends this weekend, then the soonest crabbers could begin fishing would be sometime late next week.

"The longer it goes on though, the greater the risk that we're going to suffer adverse consequences, potentially losing access to the very, very valuable holiday season for crab," said Cotter.

Right now, boats are stuck in port because NOAA, the federal organization that issues this season's catch limit, doesn't have anyone on the job during the shutdown.

There will be some crab harvesting taking place on vessels that fish under the Community Development Quota, an allocation that is set aside to benefit small towns and communities.

“We will continue to do business when it comes to the Bering Sea Crab fisheries, the Aleutians crab fisheries, we set the tax that opening date which is October 15th, we also set the CDQ percentages," said Jeff Regnart, Fish & Game Director of Commercial Fisheries.

Although Cotter's organization may benefit from the CDQ exception, he says many processing plants are closed because the commercial industry isn't producing any crab. 

Meantime, Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) is trying to raise the anchor off the crab fisherman who are charged user fees by NOAA and for that reason alone, Murkowski says it's time for NOAA officials to get back on the job.

"This is not something by doing this, the government is having to tap into monies that they don't have," Sen. Murkowski told Channel 2 News on Friday.  "This is a fund that is already paid for by the crabbers and by the processors."

Murkowski, along with Rep. Don Young (R-AK) and Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA) wrote a letter to Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, urging her to use her powers under the "Anti-Deficiency Act" to open up the crab season.