Fishermen are gearing up for the start of the Bering Sea’s lucrative crab season. But they may be off to a late start this year, because of the federal government shutdown.
State managers set catch limits. But the National Marine Fisheries Service is supposed to divide up the crab and assign individual fishing quotas, or IFQs, to boats.
“There’s nobody on staff with National Marine Fisheries Service [who is] available to issue IFQs as they are furloughed,” says Heather Fitch.
Fitch is a biologist with Fish and Game. She says it’s illegal for boats to harvest crab without these permits. But there’s no way of knowing how long it will be before the government gets around to issuing them.
“Either someone would have to be authorized to come back to work in order to do so, or it will wait until the federal government is up and running again,” Fitch says.
NMFS’ law enforcement division is one of the few departments that’s still open.
A NMFS enforcement officer says they’re trying to figure out a solution. As a compromise, they may let crab boats put their pots in the water before they get their permits — as long as they don’t pull up any crab.
Jake Jacobsen is the executive director for the Inter-cooperative Exchange, a coop of 80 crab boats. He says it’s never a good idea to leave crab pots unattended. But on the other hand, fishermen can’t afford to start late.
“If there is a delay, we’re at risk of not being able to land our crab in time to reach the all-important Asian New Year’s market,” Jacobsen says.
Last year, the coop tried to get most of its fishing done in the first three weeks of the season, so they could send their crab overseas to the Japanese market. Jacobsen says they wanted to do that again this year.
“We miss the market — we may be looking at $5 million less,” Jacobsen says.
The Bering Sea crab fisheries are supposed to open on October 15.