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Government shutdown threatens king crab season

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Updated: 10/06/2013 3:50 pm
SEATTLE, Wash. (KIRO) -- Just 10 days before the lucrative king crab season is supposed to start, the government shutdown is preventing the required permits from being distributed to fishing vessels.

The permits designate catch quotas for each boat and are required for crews to begin legally fishing. Until then, boats remain docked and idle, which could cost the industry millions of dollars.

Many vessels are already at Dutch Harbor in Alaska, standing by.

Capt. Moore Dye of the Western Mariner fishing vessel said his crew was just preparing to leave the fisherman's terminal in Seattle. On Saturday morning, his crew worked on loading dozens of pots onto the boat.

"The king crab season is like the Super Bowl of crab fishing. It's short, it's a lot of money, really fast," Dye said.

But with the possible delay in the start of the season, challenges arise when trying to meet specific deadlines for shipments to Japan, the largest buyer.

"It'll more drive up the price for us to catch it. Because we have to sit around with the engines running, guys are sitting idle, so it could add up," he said.

Dye is feeling other effects of the shutdown, besides the lack of permits. Even looking up a forecast is complicated.

"I went on my website this morning to get the offshore forecast for the trip across, but the NOAA website was down."

Plus, the U.S. Coast Guard sent a letter to owners and operators of commercial fishing vessels, saying coast guard inspectors would not be able to incur travel costs. So any required safety examinations will have to be done where the inspectors are located.

Those with boats docked at more remote ports will have to spend extra time and money to get to major ports for inspection.

Rep. Suzan Del Bene (D) spoke about the issue on the House floor.

"Instead of a fiscal cliff, right now we're facing a fishing cliff in the Bering Sea, unless Congress acts before the season is scheduled to start on Oct. 15," DelBene said.

With the Asian holiday season approaching, DelBene said that the fishing industry could incur losses if they don't meet the demand in time.

"This is unacceptable. Our fishermen deserve better than this. Their families deserve better than this. The processors, suppliers and other businesses that rely on a vibrant Alaskan king crab season all deserve better than this," she said.

The ripple effect can be felt from the fishing vessels to the market, where king crab is sold.

At Pure Foods Fish at Pike Place Market, king crab is currently $34.50 per pound.

"I could see it going up to $40 a pound, even without the issue we're having here," said Sean Lakeside at Pure Foods Fish.

The issue of no permits, though, could keep prices high for the next year. Lakeside said that king crab has already been harder to come by lately. 

"It's one of the very most popular items, especially for people who don't live here. They don't have a clue. It's just overwhelming and then they watch that show, and it's exciting," he said.

Both Lakeside and Dye said that they hope the shutdown doesn't last too much longer.
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