As federal government shutdown prompted by a dispute over a border wall heads into its third week, it is not currently affecting the seafood industry as harvesters and processors prepare for multi-million dollar groundfish fisheries in the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands and Gulf of Alaska.
Some sectors, like the Freezer Longline Coalition, say they aren’t having issues acquiring necessary permits or getting their scales inspected because all that was done during the summer and fall months, while their vessels were in shipyards for maintenance and repair. But, according to Coalition Executive Director Chad See, if the shutdown continues there could be an issue with deployment of observers as they need to be debriefed by National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). Not having enough NMFS staff to do this is a concern for the longline and catcher-processor fleet, and the Pollock fleet could also face the same challenge.
For catcher-processors represented by the At-sea Processors Association, which harvests Pollock in Alaska and Pacific whiting in West Coast waters, the concern is getting their flow scales, video monitoring equipment and observer sampling stations permitted, according to Jim Gilmore, director of public affairs for the At-sea Processors. Most of that fleet has completed their permitting. There are still a few vessels waiting for theirs, but Gilmore said he is optimistic that they’ll have them by Jan. 20, the start date of their fishery.
One industry insider engaged in a catcher-processor fishery, speaking on condition of anonymity, said vessels getting permitted at Dutch Harbor are working with the Coast Guard, while in Seattle, where federal workers charged with permitting were furloughed, the Coast Guard was also able to fill in and issue permits. Brett Paine, executive director of United Catcher Boats, noted that some NMFS employees were able to go back to work temporarily because cost recovery fees paid by American Fisheries Act inshore coops and Amendment 80 boats to cover the cost of rationalized fishery programs provided for their salaries.
Observer program provider Saltwater Inc. meanwhile was working with NMFS to fill every available space in required annual briefing programs for observers with some observers who hadn’t signed up by the Dec. 26 deadline. Stacey Hansen, Saltwater’s North Pacific and West Coast program manager, said that as things stand her company will have enough observers to fill immediate needs but if the shutdown continues into late January or early February, she can’t predict what will happen.
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