Wednesday, October 16, 2013

King Crab Season Opens With Most Boats in Port

Alaska’s king crab season is officially open, but most of the fleet remains in port, waiting for federal officials to issue required individual fishing quota permits. Those permits have been delayed because the people who issued them are furloughed under a partial government shutdown.

Members of the congressional delegations from Washington and Alaska are urging Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker to direct the National Marine Fisheries Service to issue those permits, noting that the delay is costing the fleet thousands of dollars a day.

Mark Gleason, executive director of the Bering Sea Crabbers, said fishermen are frustrated, disgusted and in disbelief. “There is a lot of anxiety,” he said. “A weather delay you expect. Something like this you never expect.”

Heather Fitch, area management biologist for shellfish at Dutch Harbor for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said so far 30 boats have registered for the fishery, but more were expected. Last year a total of 64 vessels registered and fished for the Bristol Bay red king crab.

Meanwhile some vessels affiliated with western Alaska’s community development quota association are already engaged in the fishery. According to Larry Cotter, chief executive officer of the Aleutian-Pribilof Island Community Development Association, some of the CDQs had planned to wait until Oct. 18 to begin fishing, to show solidarity with those still waiting for their federal permits, but when they encountered heavy seas they had to put pots into the water for safety reasons.

“Everyone is getting increasingly nervous,” Cotter said. “We need to get out there and get fishing.” There is widespread concern about meeting the mid-November deadline for getting this crab on boats heading for Japan, where the crab is prized as a high-end holiday gift. Otherwise, that crab could flood domestic markets, bringing the price down.

There is also much concern among seafood retailers like 10th & M Seafoods in Anchorage, where owner Skip Winfree says sales of the red king crab amounts to more than $1 million in sales. The store’s sales manager, Tito Marquez, said 10th & M pre-packages 5-pound and 10-pound packages of red king crab because of the volume of holiday orders. In case of further delays, one alternative for shoppers would be golden king crab, he said. That fishery opened on Aug. 15.

Veteran crab harvester Keith Colburn of the F/V Wizard told a congressional committee in Washington DC last week that the partial government shutdown was impacting fisheries nationwide, including the Alaska cod, Pollock and crab fisheries, and that it would impact the federal fisheries observer program if it continues.

Colburn also noted that Bering Sea crab fishermen fund management costs of the crab fishery through a cost recovery program, and that taxes they pay on their landings could be used to pay for the personnel needed to issue those permits.

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