WASHINGTON — The two-week-old federal government shutdown is imperiling the livelihoods of Alaska crab catchers and threatening to erode American market shares in Japan, one of the stars of TV’s ‘Deadliest Catch’ testified before a Senate committee Friday.
Keith Colburn, captain of the Alaska crab-fishing vessel Wizard, said a prolonged shutdown could lead to pirated crab harvests as well Russia supplanting the United States as a major exporter of Bristol Bay red king crabs to Japan.
Colburn was one of five witnesses called by the Senate Commerce, Science & Transportation Committee for a hearing on the economic impact of the funding lapse that has shuttered most government operations since Oct. 1.
The 2013-14 season for Alaska crabs is to start Tuesday. But the crabbers are likely to miss that because fisheries managers with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Juneau, who must issue the catch permits, have been furloughed.
Colburn said it was the first October in 28 years he wasn’t working Bering Sea.
“While I’m honored to be here, I’d rather be 4,000 miles away,” Colburn said.
He thanked Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray of Washington and Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, for their support of Alaska’s fisheries industry. Cantwell and Begich serve on the committee.
“It’s unbelievable to me that we’re sitting here, and you have to come to this instead of being able to do this job that is already dangerous and treacherous to begin with,” Cantwell said.
Just two of the committee’s 11 Republican members attended the hearing, which featured a parade of examples of the shutdown’s effects.
Deborah Hersman, chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board, said since the shutdown began, 14 accidents have gone uninvestigated. Among them are a bus crash in Tennessee that left eight people dead.
Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the committee’s ranking Republican, pushed back against Democrats on the panel who laid the blame for the shutdown on House Republicans. Thune noted that the House had passed piecemeal spending bills that would reopen select parts of the government, including the Department of Defense. Senate Democrats have rejected that approach and are insisting on a single spending bill to end the shutdown.
“Wouldn’t some funding be better than no funding?” Thune asked.
“Not if you’re the person not getting the funding,” Colburn said.