ANCHORAGE — Alaska’s red king crab fishery, made famous by the Discovery Channel reality show “Deadliest Catch,” was finally moving into full swing Friday after returning furloughed federal workers issued the necessary permits.
Some boats began heading into the Bering Sea from Alaska’s Dutch Harbor on Thursday night, said Mark Gleason, executive director of the Seattle-based trade association Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers, which represents 70 percent of the Bristol Bay red king crab fishery.
“Relief is the biggest thing in my mind right now,” Gleason said. “I’m just relieved that the Congress has put aside its squabbles temporarily.”
Alaska’s red king crab season opened Tuesday, but most of the participating boats had remained at dock.
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That’s because the federal managers who set their individual quotas for the fishery were among those furloughed in the government’s partial shutdown.
Those National Marine Fisheries Service employees returned to their jobs Thursday and went right to work processing the individual fishing-quota permits, issuing them the same day.
The quota permits were issued faster than some expected. Gleason said federal officials earlier estimated it would take three to five days.
Julie Speegle, a spokeswoman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), said Friday that processing of all necessary permits for the fishery has been completed. NOAA oversees the Fisheries Service.
“I think it speaks to the professionalism of our federal employees that we were able to implement the plan to get the permits out to the crabbers so that the fishing can begin,” she said.
In Tuesday’s red king crab fishery opening, only boats representing a tiny fraction of the total haul were allowed to head out on time because those quotas were assigned by the state.
Those affected by the 16-day shutdown were crabbers on 80 other boats involved in the much larger harvest.
Crabbers have been anxiously waiting to head out, saying a late opening could severely cut into their profits domestically and from the lucrative holiday market in Japan.
“Deadliest Catch” captain Keith Colburn spoke last week before the Senate Commerce Committee, testimony that was filmed by a Discovery crew for the season that begins in April.
The show also documented the furlough’s effects on the fishery, but just before the shutdown ended Colburn said he hoped the footage would turn out to be no more than a blip in the show, if anything.
In a statement issued Friday afternoon, the Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers praised federal workers for a rapid post-shutdown response, saying that would help minimize any market impacts from a further delay.
“What could have become a marketplace catastrophe will now be nothing more than a late start, similar to that of a weather delay
,” the statement says.