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Shutdown could hit crabbers hard

By Heather Hintze 6:50 PM October 15, 2013

With NOAA furloughed, fishermen can't get their crabbing permits

ANCHORAGE – The government shutdown could have a disastrous impact on Alaska’s crabbing season that opens Tuesday.

Workers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are furloughed, which means even though fishermen have already paid for their special permits for the Bering Sea, they won’t get them before the season starts.

Mark Gleason, the executive director of Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers said about 80 boats in Dutch Harbor are impacted. Each spends more than $1,000 a day to keep up operations in case the permits go through.

“Boats are incurring costs the longer they stayed tied up but they have significant bills they’ve accrued in the off season. There’s a lot of money out of pocket right now and not a lot coming in,” Gleason said.

This time last year, the Discovery Channel’s “Deadliest Catch” documented the start of crabbing season, which brought in a total of about $400 million. Captain Elliott Neese and his crew on the Saga should be heading to sea right now. Instead, they’re stuck at port.

“I just bought my boat last year. I’ve got six guys that are waiting to get paid. They’ve got house payments and wives and children they need to take care of just like I do. My bank account is definitely getting low, ” Neese said.

The delay of the season will likely have a trickle down effect. At 10th & M Seafoods in Anchorage, the shelves are stocked with crab from Norway, Russia and some frozen from Alaska’s season last year.

Owner Skip Winfree said if he doesn’t get shipments of crab by mid-November, he won’t be able to send it out to meet the holiday demand.

“We’ll go through 50,000 to 80,000 pounds during the season for that. Without it that’s much more than a million dollars in revenue we’ll lose,” Winfree said.

He said the longer the government stays closed, the bigger the financial hit.

“When it comes down to us and our crab season, you’ve hit us in the pocket books and it’s a big, big loss,” Winfree said.

The looming deadline is November 12. That’s when fishermen have to have their catches to processors in order to get them out for the holidays, especially to Asia.

Gleason said if they miss that deadline, the price they get could drop by about 25 percent, which could be up to a $100 million dollar blow to the industry.

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