Alaska’s cod and crab fisheries are underway in the Bering Sea with few problems reported so far from the government shutdown that’s heading into a third week.

“I have not heard of any problems, but that’s not to say that there aren’t any.”   

Forrest Bowers is acting director of the Alaska’s commercial fisheries division. The shutdown has furloughed about 800,000 workers nationwide, most with no pay, including fishery oversight and research jobs. That means no one to issue permits and licenses or other documents and services needed before setting out.

Alaska’s state managed fisheries intertwine closely with the federal ones, notably, with co-management of Bering Sea crab.

“The state sets the total allowable catch and we handle the in-season management of the fishery – vessel registrations, observer coverage and harvest tracking.”  

The crab boats had their paperwork in order prior to the shutdown and red king crab is a wrap, except for one straggler. Bowers says that could be a problem.

“There is one little hang up in that in turns out the single vessel that is participating now is a catcher processor and they need a scale inspection by the federal government, and because of the shutdown they haven’t been able to have that scale inspection done and it’s delaying them. We’re hoping we can get that resolved for them.”

The Pacific cod fishery also could run into problems for freezer longliners, Bowers said, with scale inspections or other unavailable services from the continuing shutdown.

Pollock, flatfish and other groundfish will open for trawlers in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska on January 20 and that could bring its own set of shutdown impacts.

For now, things are proceeding on schedule but Bowers says there is a mood of concern about a shutdown with no end in sight.

“I think there is some uncertainty right now about what’s going to happen. Fortunately, we have a pretty sophisticated group of folks in the fishing industry in Alaska who are very professional and know how to do their jobs. That helps a lot when there is a good working relationship with the managers. I think it makes these times of uncertainty go more smoothly.”  

Federal fishery researchers are off the job during the shutdown and Bowers says that could have impacts down the road.

“Major surveys occur in the summer months but certainly there could be research initiatives or projects that are underway concurrent with the fisheries or in conjunction to the fisheries this time of year. There certainly could be research activity that might not be able to occur.”