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Government Shutdown Threatens Iconic Crab Fishery in the Bering Sea

Senator Begich's office

As it stands now, the ongoing shutdown of the federal government could negatively impact a major crab fishery in the Bering Sea. The Bristol Bay red king crab fishery is scheduled to get started at noon on Tuesday. However, the fishery is currently on hold due to the ongoing shutdown of the Federal Government. Specifically, the biologists with the National Marine Fisheries Service who can issue the IFQ permits are furloughed, which means no permits have yet been issued. The fleet can’t go fishing without those permits. On Thursday members of Congress heard from one of the entities heavily invested in the crab fisheries in the Bering Sea. Norm Van Vactor is the CEO of the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation. He spoke to the shutdown of the crab fisheries during testimony given as part of a hearing in the U.S. House focused on the EPA.

“The government shutdown is already impacting our fishing economy. The Bristol Bay red king crab fishery must start on October 15 or it risks losing a significant marketplace. Please end this government shutdown so our fishermen can get their federal permits and get back to work.”

The market Van Vactor was referencing is Japan where king crab are highly prized for holiday celebrations. If the fishery is delayed it’s possible the harvesters and processors could miss the window to deliver product in time for those celebrations. A representative with the Inter Cooperative Exchange says the processed crab needs to be en route to Japanese markets by November 12th. The Bristol Bay red king crab fishery is scheduled to open at noon on Tuesday. It’s will close in mid-January. In the announcement of the quota for the fishery the Alaska Department of Fish and Game confirmed that the State has been notified by the National Marine Fishery Service that the issuance of the individual and processing quotas may be delayed due to the shutdown of the federal government. The IFQ quota for Bristol Bay red king crab fishery is 7.7-million pounds and the CDQ quota is 860-thousand pounds. That puts the total quota at 8.6-million pounds. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game confirms that the mature female abundance is above the established threshold of 8.4-million crab and the effective spawning biomass is over the threshold of 14.5-million pounds. This season’s quota of 8.6-million pounds is up 9-percent compared to last year. Fish and Game confirms that preseason gear inspections are now available in Dutch Harbor, Akutan, and King Cove. Vessel registration is scheduled to begin Monday morning. Fish and Game notes that when NOAA fisheries RAM Division operations resume inquiries about IFQ and IPO permits can be handled by calling 1-800-304-4846. While the IFQ and IPO permits may be delayed the 860-thousand pounds of Bristol Bay red king crab covered by the Community Development Quota can be harvested starting Tuesday at noon because the CDQ permits are handled by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, which is unaffected by the ongoing federal government shutdown. ADF&G’s Director of Commercial Fishing is quoted as saying that the Bristol Bay red king crab fishery will open as scheduled at noon Tuesday so as to allow the CDQ quota to be harvested.