ANCHORAGE — Participants in Alaska’s famous red king crab fishery are finally close to heading out into the Bering Sea, now that the federal government’s partial shutdown is behind them.
The multimillion-dollar harvest featured on the Discovery Channel reality show, “Deadliest Catch,” has been sidelined since the Tuesday opening. That’s because federal managers who assign individual fishing quotas for the Bristol Bay fishery were among workers furloughed during the government’s partial shutdown. Only boats representing a tiny fraction of the total harvest were allowed to head out on time because those quotas were assigned by the state.
Crabbers on 80 other boats involved in the much larger haul had to sit docked in Dutch Harbor, essentially hostages of national politics taking place at the other end of the country.
Those crabbers hope to head out no later than this weekend. Until that happens, each day spent sitting it out is that day of fishing that’s been lost, said “Deadliest Catch” captain Keith Colburn.
“We’re fishermen,” he told The Associated Press on Thursday. “We’re going stir-crazy because we want to fish.”
With the end of the shutdown, the National Marine Fisheries Service workers returned to work Thursday.
The goal is to get the necessary permits issued by the end of the week, said Julie Speegle, a spokeswoman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which oversees NMFS.
Joshua Songstad, a crabber not involved with the reality show, said typically it takes three to five days to process the quotas.
Crabbers have feared a late opening would slash into their profits from the lucrative holiday market in Japan as well as domestically. Colburn said it remains to be seen how the shutdown will ultimately affect prices. Even losing a dollar a pound means millions less in profits.
Mark Gleason, with the Seattle-based trade association Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers, said he’s hopeful people will be fishing by the weekend or early next week at the latest.
“We’re relieved that it’s over,” Gleason said of the shutdown. “Were anxious to get to work.”