He should be at the helm of the Wizard heading out into the Bering Sea for the start of the Alaskan king crab season. But instead of battling the elements, Seattle’s Capt. Keith Colburn of “Deadliest Catch” fame was facing a Senate committee imploring lawmakers to end the government shutdown.
Colburn warned the shutdown could threaten thousands of Seattle-area workers dependent on the fishing industry for their livelihoods.
He was one of a number of panelists testifying before the Senate Commerce Committee on the impacts of the shutdown on everything from fishing to investigations of fatal air and car crashes.
The Alaskan fishing fleet remains halted because the shutdown has kept officials from issuing permits for the short-lived season.
Colburn, who first told of the impact of the shutdown during a live interview last week on KIRO Radio’s Ron and Don Show, told lawmakers he has just two weeks to make approximately 30 percent of his annual income. And his entire industry faces the threat of losing out to foreign competitors if they can’t get out on the water soon.
“I don’t want Russian pirated crab to supplant my crab in the marketplace, not only in Japan but domestically. I mean to me it’s crazy right now. I feel like we’re putting the Russians to work and putting Americans out of work.”
Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Washington) lamented the impact on a number of Washington-based industries including aviation and fishing, displaying a picture of Colburn’s ship navigating rough seas in Alaska to hammer her point home that the shutdown is hurting real people while Republican lawmakers continue waging a purely-political battle.
“You can see the difficulty that this vessel has to operate under. And you have to come back here just to go and do this job, just to hear somebody talk about how they didn’t get an amendment and that’s why the government is shut down,” Cantwell said.
The one-month crab season harvest is scheduled to begin Oct. 15. But the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is not assigning quotas to boats and permits during the shutdown.
“Collectively, the fleet already has (spent) millions of dollars out of pocket just gearing up for the season,” Colburn said. “Each day tied to the docks will cost these boats thousands more. Many fishermen and coastal communities are already facing tough times. This unnecessary shutdown may be the tipping point if the situation isn’t resolved soon.”
Even if the shutdown ends soon, Colburn says it will take at least three to four days to get out to the fishing grounds, already cutting into the season.
About 50 boats from Seattle are part of the Bering Sea fleet. A recent report found Alaska’s seafood industry generates 34,000 jobs and $1.9 billion in wages for Washington state, the The Seattle Times reports.
“Time is critical. The Wizard is one of many small, family run businesses that make up the Alaskan crab fleet, said Colburn. “My wife manages the shore side end of the business. My brother is on the boat with me. My crew depends on me to feed their families. We have been racking up bills getting ready to go fishing. If we’re tied to the docks waiting for the government we can’t pay those bills. I’m a small businessman in a big ocean with big bills. I need to go fishing.”