Sea Watch: Fed shutdown affects fisheries

While federal fisheries are expected to open on time despite the ongoing partial shutdown of the government, there will be effects on fisheries in Alaska.

National Marine Fisheries Services offices have few people available to answer phones and questions, and while their enforcement arm is open for business, their research arm is shut down. The move throws a serious wrench into ongoing studies, which require regular data collection, and hampers data collection for determining future quotas.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries website that deals with renewing permits has a notice banner alerting users that the site will not be updated, but notes that “NOAA websites and social media channels necessary to protect lives and property will be maintained,” including marine weather forecasting. No new permits will be issued during the shutdown. The federal fisheries are highly regulated and require frequent inspections of equipment such as scales and monitoring equipment that tracks vessel locations as well as type and number of fish. Those inspections are not happening until the stalemate in Washington, D.C., is resolved, and boats cannot legally fish without them.

KTOO Public Media reports that the shutdown would only have to affect a small number of Bering Sea boats for the economic impact to be substantial — a single fishing trip for a large factory trawler can be worth millions of dollars.

While most of the Bering Sea cod fleet had their inspections done before the shutdown, the pollock season that begins Jan. 20 could be affected if it lingers. And one vessel, the 180-foot Baranof, has more than two dozen crew members who flew out to Dutch Harbor for the winter fishing season.

They had planned to start fishing for red crab on Jan. 1, but are unable to leave the dock without having an electronic scale certified by federal regulators. Those regulators are on the ground in Dutch Harbor, willing to do the job, but unable because of the shutdown.

Doug Wells, government affairs director for Romanzof Fishing Co., which owns the boat, told KTOO, “It’s infuriating. These are just guys that have done a ton of work and are sitting there ready to go, and are being prevented by a bunch of politicians.”

The red crab fishery closes in mid-January, and if the Baranof can’t make its catch by then, the company’s losses would be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, Wells said.

Cristy Fry can be reached at realist468@gmail.com.

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