Cantwell, Begich Announce Alaska Crab Fishery to Open by Weekend

Permits will be issued by COB Friday, fishing to begin this weekend

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Mark Begich (D-AK) applauded the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) swift action to open the Bristol Bay Red King Crab Fishery to Washington state and Alaska crab fishermen. NOAA will issue quota permits for each crab vessel and fishing should begin this weekend.

Located in Alaska’s Bristol Bay region, the fishery was set to open on October 15. Due to the government shutdown, NOAA could not issue permits that authorize crews to fish for Alaska Red King Crab. The Bristol Bay Red King Crab Fishery has 80 boats employing 500 fishermen; approximately 50 of those boats are based in Seattle.

“This is great news for Pacific Northwest fishing jobs,” said Cantwell. “Last week on Capitol Hill, Captain Keith Colburn clearly showed the damage that the unnecessary government shutdown could cause to family fishing businesses. Today, Senator Begich and I are glad to announce that Captain Colburn and hundreds of Northwest fishermen can get back to work. I applaud NOAA for making our fishing jobs a top priority as we reopen the government."

“I’m pleased federal agencies are getting back to work to ensure the Bristol Bay Red King Crab Fishery can open as soon as possible,” said Begich. “Senator Cantwell and I have made sure that expediting permits is a priority so that Alaskan fishermen can get to work. Consumers are eager to get Alaska king crab, some of the best seafood on earth, and Alaska fishermen want to fulfill this demand, earn a living wage for their families and keep the Alaska economy strong.”

The senators sent a letter today urging U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker to prioritize opening the fishery. In their letter, the senators noted that each fishing vessel loses $1,000 every day the fishery remains closed. NOAA is a part of the Commerce Department. 

“Fishing families are eager to get to work,” the senators wrote in the letter. “Please help us minimize the economic impact this unnecessary shutdown has had on our coastal economics by making a priority of opening the Bristol Bay Red King Crab fishery.  Thank you for your attention to this urgent request.”

Last week, Captain Keith Colburn of the show “Deadliest Catch,” testified before Cantwell and Begich during a U.S. Senate Commerce Committee hearing about the impact of the shutdown on the crab fishery.

“On behalf of all fishermen, I'm asking Congress to end the shutdown now,” Colburn said. “I'm a small businessman in a big ocean with big bills. I need to go fishing."

Today’s letter follows another letter the Senators sent to Secretary Pritzker on October 15 highlighting the importance of the fishery and the need to open the fishing season.

A July 2013 report presented to the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute found that Alaska’s seafood industry directly supports over 63,000 jobs in Alaska. The study also found that 34,000 Washingtonians worked in the industry and that it supports over 7,000 jobs in Washington state at processors, distributors, grocers and restaurants. 

The full text of today’s letter is below.

The Honorable Penny Pritzker


U.S. Department of Commerce

1401 Constitution Ave., NW Washington, D.C. 20230

Dear Secretary Pritzker:

Legislation passed by the Senate and House last night and signed into law by President Obama ended the unnecessary federal shutdown.  As government services are resumed, we request NOAA Fisheries prioritize the issuance of quota permits to allow the prompt opening of the Bristol Bay Red King Crab fishery.

The Bristol Bay Red King Crab fishery in Alaska's Bering Sea was set to open October 15 but has been delayed due to the federal government shutdown.  This delay costs each participating fishing vessel approximately $1,000 per day as they wait for the opening.  As outlined in our previous letter, larger economic losses are threatened by extended closure of this fishery.

A tremendous amount of work went into preparing for this fishery such as determination of the total allowable catch.  However, due to the federal government shutdown there has been no staff to process the final, routine administrative paperwork to allow these crab fishermen to get to work.

We realize the Department of Commerce faces significant challenges as you restart your agency to meet its federal responsibilities following the government shutdown.  However, we ask you prioritize the prompt opening of this fishery which is tied to countless fishing, processing, support industry and associated jobs in our home states of Alaska and Washington.

Fishing families are eager to get to work.  Please help us minimize the economic impact this unnecessary shutdown has had on our coastal economics by making a priority of opening the Bristol Bay Red King Crab fishery.  Thank you for your attention to this urgent request.