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Capt. Keith warns government shutdown threatens 'Deadliest Catch'

The Wizard and the rest of the Alaska crab fleet can't fish because of the government shutdown. (Image courtesy Capt. Keith Colburn)

With the government shutdown dragging on, there are worries it could be devastating to the guys made famous by the blockbuster TV show "Deadliest Catch" and the entire fishing industry.

Captain Keith Colburn, the owner and operator of the Seattle-based Wizard, is supposed to start fishing for king crab next week. But he tells KIRO Radio's Ron and Don Show he can't because the government workers that issue permits and manage the catch quotas are off the job.

"A lot of people don't realize that a lot of these essential personnel that are still manning their post, so to speak, their staff are unessential, so they're not at work," he says. "Without those people to do that they don't get the permits, so we don't fish."

For Captain Keith and the rest of the industry, timing is critical. He estimates the fall king crab season makes up about 30 percent of his annual income. And he says demand is highest before the holidays for both export and U.S. markets.

"If we don't have this crab on the trampers and being shipped by the middle of November, then we're going to see a drastic reduction on the price at the dock...once the holidays disappear, then that price for our product starts to diminish dramatically."

A delayed shutdown will hurt more than just the fishermen.

"That crab leg that we catch up there in the Bering Sea that ends up in Pennsylvania goes through a lot of hands before it gets there," he says. "There are processors, there are people that are in transport, there are all sorts of infrastructure being geared up. And this is just one of many fisheries around the United States that could potentially be impacted."

The Wizard has already made its way to Alaska for the planned start of the season, but Keith says every day it's forced to sit in port is a day he's racking up expenses and losing money.

"Right now, the bank accounts are real low. After a summer's worth of shipyard work and gearing up the boat and gear work and everything else we're doing, we've got our insurance, we've got our fuel, we've got new gear, we've got all this stuff we've invested in to go fish. And right now, we have bills to pay just like everybody else."

What's most frustrating to Keith and millions of others is the reason for the shutdown.

"The crazy thing is this: it's not a shutdown based on numbers or a budget. It's based on somebody wanting something outside of the budget."

And he says he worries about everyone impacted by the shutdown, not just his industry.

"Think about that guy that's in the middle of a study that is time sensitive that has been shut down. Maybe it's a medical clinical trial study and all of a sudden it may be something that could help not only that individual patient, but maybe other patients down the road. Now all of a sudden they have to start over from scratch. I mean how much has been lost in that and what could be lost in the future?"

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