There was a familiar face to cable viewers at Friday's (Oct. 11) Senate Commerce Committee hearing on the impact of the government shutdown: Keith Colburn, Alaska King Crab fisherman and captain of The Wizard on Discovery's Deadliest Catch.
Colburn said that it was the first time in 28 years of fishing he was not in the Bering Sea in October preparing to fish — and more recently preparing to be filmed fishing for the popular series.
He told the Senate that the shutdown has jeopardized the Oct. 15 opening of the season because NOAA has furloughed the employees necessary to start issuing the fishery permits they need to establish their quota.
"Collectively the fleet already has millions of dollars out of pocket just gearing up for the season. Each day tied to the docks will cost these boats thousands more," he said.
Discovery EVP, PR, Laurie Goldberg, who was attending the hearing with Coburn, said it was too soon to tell how this will affect production of the series but said "we are watching the news very closely."
Sen. Roger wicker (R-Miss.) pointed out that there are three members of Congress — two House members and a senator — who believe that NOAA has the authority under existing law to resume that permitting activity without lifting the shutdown.
Wicker said he agreed that it had the authority and should start issuing the permits.
"Time is critical," said Colburn. "The Wizard is one of many small, family run businesses that make up the Alaskan crab ... 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."
Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) pointed out that Colburn would not be compensated, like furloughed government employees, after the shutdown was over. He suggested Coburn had been particularly restrained in his testimony, and perhaps some more "mad as hell" anger was warranted and needed.
Alaska Senator Mark Begich (D) said he had met with Coburn before the meeting and said the captain was stuck in Washington when he should have been fishing. He agreed with Coburn that Alaska fishermen could lose some of its market share from Japan to Russia.
Colburn said fisheries need more than government Band-Aid's. "At some point you are going to run out of Band-Aids and you'll need a tourniquet."
Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) said she had called about getting the fisheries open, but that lawyers have advised that crab fisheries need to be closed down during the shutdown.
Cantwell held up a signed picture of the Wizard to show the tough job he has and said he should not have to be coming to Washington when he should be fishing. She said the impact of piracy is going to hurt the fisheries if it is not fixed in the next 24-48 hours.
Colburn said that no matter what happens now, the opening of the season will be delayed 3 or 4 days at least, which means time lost to pirates or competing Russian fishermen not using sustainable fishing methods.
Colburn conceded that he had a dangerous job but said he was more nervous and scared talking to Congress than navigating 30-foot seas. But he said shutting down weather forecasting and losing Coast Guard monitoring is going to affect many others besides crab fishermen.
Sen. Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said Congress understands the effects on real people of the shutdown, and that it was an ideological fringe, nihilists and anarchists, that wanted a government shutdown.
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