WASHINGTON, October 16 (RIA Novosti) – Alaskan king crab fishermen fear the Russian crab industry will claw into its market share due to a US government shutdown that has grounded boats as harvesters await permission to fish from furloughed federal workers.
“There’s a ton of Russian product in Japanese cold storage. If the Japanese are not able able to procure crab from Alaska, they’re not going to give up crab during the holidays,” Mark Gleason, head of the Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers, a Seattle-based industry group, told RIA Novosti by telephone Wednesday.
Alaska’s red king crab season kicked off Tuesday, but dozens of boats remained docked while American fisherman wait for quotas to be issued by US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) fisheries managers who have been furloughed due to the shutdown of the US government amid a rancorous federal budget standoff.
Industry groups and US lawmakers say if the quotas are not issued to allow the fishing to proceed, the Alaskan crab fishermen could miss out on the crucial holiday season in Japan, costing them millions of dollars.
Keith Colburn, a US reality television star who catches Alaskan crab on the Discovery Channel show “The Deadliest Catch,” told the US Senate Commerce Committee last week that if the US boats remain moored, they will be ceding the Bearing Strait waters to Russian crab fishermen.
“I feel like we’re putting the Russians to work and American fishermen out of work,” he said.
Gleason told RIA Novosti on Wednesday that a stalled Alaskan king crab harvest could also allow Russian imports to pinch the US market. Russia exported 17.8 million pounds of frozen king crab to the United States, accounting for 86 percent of all US imports of the product, according to Seafood News.
US officials say prices for all kinds of crabs have sunk over the past two years due to a spike in poaching by Russian fishing vessels, though Russian authorities have publicly said they are cracking down on such illegal harvests.
An estimate by Inter-Cooperative Exchange, an association of Bering Sea crab fishermen said Russia poaching lowered prices for Alaskan crab by as much as 25 percent in 2012, the Wall Street Journal reported in April.
The industry research firm McDowell group said in a report that illegal Russian supplies rose 36 percent from 2011 to 2012, totaling 123.1 million pounds last year compared to an Alaskan haul of 113 million pounds of crab, the Journal reported.